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Artist Donations: How to Respond to Requests for Art Donations

There is often additional information on the recording that is not in this written interview.  Inspire yourself and listen while you make art.

Not a week goes by without one of my clients asking me for advice about yet another request for a donation of art for a "worthy cause."

There's usually no dispute about whether the cause is worthy, or that the request is made by a well-meaning volunteer. Many are unaware that tax laws that favor the person who buys the art with a full deduction whereas the artist can deduct only the cost of materials. If they prefer not to donate art but want to support the requesting charity, artists can make a cash donation instead and use the deduction on their taxes.

Last week, a talented wildlife artist told me about a caller who started the conversation with a compliment about a piece on her web site. She thought he was a potential buyer. Could she give him a deal on a print instead of buying the original? Her prices are clearly posted, so she referred him to his choices. He said he'd think about it.

In the next breath he asked if she would donate a piece to a high profile "conservation" organization for a fundraiser.

This "bait and switch" conversation left this artist feeling "used" and irritated. She had already donated a piece for the previous five years to this charity without so much as an acknowledgement on their web site. Her costs of framing exceeded the auction results, so she felt she had donated three times - once for her time, once for her supplies and the third for the frame. Now, without a word of thanks, she was being asked to come forth again.

The assumption that artists can and will give and give and give is the source of her irritation. Yes, art talents may be gifts, but they are often hard won. Artists do freely support causes they believe in, but they also need to support themselves. They don't want to seem uncaring but often don't know how to respond to repeated donation requests.

"Appeals for Art" is a resource designed to help create a better match between requests and donations.

"Appeals for Art" attempts to bridge the information gap with donation advice for both artists and charitable organizations. The web site is the brainchild of artists Gayle Rappaport-Weiland and Ann Ranlett who wanted to show artists and charitable organizations how donations could be mutually beneficial, instead of problematic.

"Art is indeed a business and we know this information is critical to the success of both the artist and the organization. We believe that it is possible not only to make this process mutually beneficial, but also to increase the profitability for both artists and charities. As full-time artists and businesswomen, we saw the need to create guidelines for donating art and for charitable requests. We have compiled this information from our own personal experiences and those of artist friends and colleagues."

Ann Ranlett

Ann has always shared her life with animals and has been drawing them since she could hold a crayon. She works in a variety of mediums to capture the spirit, character and beauty of her chosen animal and nature subjects.  Her award-winning work ranges from highly detailed scratchboard drawings to whimsical, vibrant watercolor paintings.   AnnRanlettsArt on Facebook

Gayle Rappaport-Weiland

Gayle brings the same originality, enthusiasm, energy and heart to her art career as she does to her life. Using rule-breaking techniques that set her apart from the crowd she creates beautiful impressionistic works using watercolor, acrylic and mixed media. Her qualifications and expertise both as an artist, teacher, consultant, curator, juror and on-air personality are widely recognized and respected.

A.C.T.: What prompted you to start Appeals for Art?

We both donate regularly to charitable organizations. As businesspeople, we've learned over the years that we are unable to say yes to every request.

This project is about paying it forward by educating artists, businesses and charitable organizations in the process of donating art.

We provide guidance for artists to have successful relationships with charitable organizations in these areas:

  • replying to the request
  • determining if the organization is best fit for the artist
  • how to help the organization help the artist
  • deciding what to donate

We also cover the option of a "do it yourself" project for artists to benefit a favorite charity and the opportunities of forming such a relationship with an organization.

We provide guidance to organizations for their interactions with artists in these ways:

  • understanding artists as professionals
  • how to create a win-win situation
  • making initial contact
  • interactions before, during and at the event
  • follow up
  • perks they can offer for donating

The process of donating art can be a win-win situation for all involved because it creates a circular relationship when it's set up to benefit both parties:

  • The artist donates art, the charity makes money from that donation
  • The organization promotes the artist's work
  • The artist gets more business and subsequently can donate again

We ask businesses and charitable organizations to treat artists with respect and as the business people they are.

Harmony and a shared sense of purpose between the artist and the organization are crucial for a profitable relationship.

A.C.T.: What is your business model for Appeals for Art?

We are not funded. We have donated our time and money to this point because we believe in the value of this project.

Because Appeals for Art is on-line, it's available to anyone, anywhere. Information is distributed as a free downloadable document through our web site. We had an initial hard-copy printing of 25 limited edition, signed copies that were sold at our launch party. Our plan is to make a hard-copy book available once we have received more feedback.

A.C.T.: When are artists ready to respond to requests for donations?

It's best if an artist has a current body of work (50 -75 pieces) from which they choose to donate and still have enough for moneymaking exhibits. They are fully ready to donate, without regrets, when they feel they are being treated with respect by an organization they wish to help.

Artists are graciously giving their time and unique talents to the organization. We recommend that artists give to organizations that they feel good about and have researched. You are collaborating with the organization, so be sure that it's a group with which you want your name, art and reputation connected.


A.C.T.: What advice do you have for artists who receive requests for donations?

Educate the business or charitable organization and, of course,  donate if it is a cause that you care to support with a piece of art.

Here is an example of Gayle's response to a request from the Appeals for Art Blog.

Thank you for your interest in my work and for all you do to help the wonderful greyhounds. Unfortunately, I won't be able to donate to your auction. As you may have guessed, I receive many donation requests and I've had to make the decision to limit my donations to local animal rescue organizations. I DO support a local greyhound rescue group (Greyhound Friends for Life).

Regarding "tax purposes," many people are not aware that tax law is such that artists are only able to deduct the value of the materials used to create an item, not the retail value. With this being the case, I often suggest that someone from an organization (staff, volunteer, supporter) purchase an item of art and then donate it. That way, the artist makes a sale, the donor is able to write off the donation and the charity benefits. I can't speak for other artists, but I regularly donate a portion of my art sales to local animal rescues, so the more I sell, the more I can donate, and since it's a cash donation, then I also benefit from the deduction.

If you'd like to learn more about creating beneficial connections with artists and donors, please visit

Best wishes for a successful event!"


As Aletta says, you can also make a monetary donation from a direct sale of your art (i.e. specify that if a specific piece of art sells, you'll make a donation to the organization).

Another way is to offer to list a fund-raising event on your web site or blog.

We invite artists to refer the person making the request to visit the Appeals for Art site and download the document.

Don't fall prey to the myths:

  • "It's deductible!" Many organizations will tell you that your donation is tax-deductible because they are a registered charitable organization. This really doesn't help you in the way that it helps art buyers. You can only deduct the cost of materials, not the retail price of the art, unless you have a written appraisal. 
  • "It's great exposure!"  This is true only if the charity does a good job of promoting you personally as well as the event and there is a good turnout. Exposure doesn't necessarily lead to sales.
  • "Bigger is Better"  Not necessarily. A bigger piece may make a bigger splash and generate a larger return but: 
    - In an auction, a small piece of well-done art starting at a lower price point may garner more bids.
    - Buyers may be looking for smaller items as a gift or to fill a smaller space in their home.


A.C.T.: You each wear two hats. Please describe a typical day, week and month so readers can understand how you manage your time, money and energy.

We both are full-time professional artists. Ann is the techie wizard and Gayle focuses on getting the word out.

Our days are not typical and, like many fellow artists,  we often don't know what the day will bring. These are some of our regular commitments:

  • Create inventory for our galleries
  • Teach & prep for classes
  • Social media/marketing -Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
  • Prepare for exhibits/shows
  • Commission work
  • Accounting
  • Licensing
  • Interacting with local media
  • Framing
  • Web site/blog
  • Taking care of our families & walk our dogs
  • Demos
  • Membership meetings
  • Open studio prep
  • Taking care of ourselves

It all depends on the day!

For the Appeals project, we initially bounced around some ideas over the phone; then we made appointments and met to discuss in person.

We fit this into our schedule like we would any other commitment. We put time on our calendars monthly until we finished the project and launched the web site and document. We continue to meet as needed.

A.C.T.: How do you define success for this project and how do you celebrate it?

Success is the journey and collaborating on Appeals for Art has been a labor of love. Connection is what it's all about, and we truly believe in the value of this project.

The ultimate excitement would be having the information downloaded worldwide. So far, in addition to the U.S., our document has been downloaded in Canada and Australia. Of course, it would be wonderful for a publishing company to express an interest. Why not put that out in the universe? Always dreaming!

A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in handling requests for donations of art and how have you handled them?

Most people who make donation requests are volunteers who are enthusiastic about their cause but need guidance in working with artists. They need specifics - how to customize, clarify and explain their request, For example, before contacting an artist, they should be informed about the artist's work. Again, it comes back to understanding and respecting the artist and their business.

A.C.T.: What obstacles have you encountered in creating this project and how have you handled them?

Time was our biggest challenge. This project took on a life of its own, and being the professionals that we are, we didn't want to short-change this endeavor and we wanted it to be done right. What was at first going to be an outline became a full web site and document. It's hard to quantify the actual time spent over two years as we worked on it on our own and together. Proofing was a larger job than we had initially anticipated. Our own busy careers and paying projects had to be a priority.

We were fortunate to have Gayle's intern Samantha Bertsch help us with web site ideas, document design and layout. We also wish to thank our husbands for their part in this, including proofreading, idea-bouncing and supporting our goals. Artist friends and professional colleagues including Aletta also helped immensely.

A.C.T.: What opportunities has a professional approach to your career brought you that you might otherwise not have had?

Professionalism, honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of how we do business.

You have to be professional to be taken seriously. If you don't take yourself seriously, no one else will. A professional approach is doing what you say you'll do, being on time, maintaining quality in your work, communicating effectively, being productive, and keeping a positive attitude and so much more. It's no different for an artist than any other businessperson. How you conduct yourself in life reflects on your professionalism.

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently" - Warren Buffet

A.C.T.: What is your art marketing strategy for Appeals for Art?

In addition to web sites, we use many social networking platforms for own businesses, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and we promote Appeals for Art when the appropriate opportunity arises.  We also market in person, for example, at art-related social events where charitable organizations are attending, at classes or demos, and of course, when we've received a donation request.

We also mention the project in personal interactions where appropriate, and we created separate business cards for this component of our business.


A.C.T.: How do you feel artists can benefit from the types of programs, services and products we offer at Artist Career Training and The Art Business Library?

Being involved in Artist Career Training focuses on what we believe is fundamental to learning the business end of art - how important it is to get the word out and that repeat exposure in any business is crucial. You want to stay in front of your audience and so much more.

Aletta gives you the tools it takes to make your art business successful. Her strategic guidance provides a step-by-step boost in any artist's career. Learn how to take action - learn with Aletta! And get help with your web site and social media from Robin Sagara.


What experiences - good and bad - have you had with donations of art? What lessons have you learned that you can pass on to other artists?

Please post your replies here or on Facebook and Twitter.

P.S. If you want help with your art business, just let me know. Think of me as an "art business change agent" who sees what you are already doing, helps you raise the bar to make your art business more resilient and the job of art marketing simpler. If you haven't already had one, start with a complimentary 15-minute conversation.  Sign up here

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