6 Tips for Successfully Donating Art to a Non-Profit Art Auction Fundraiser

By Charlie T. Savage in Art Business Advice > Art Marketing Tips

Art auctions held by non-profits are a win-win for everyone involved. These types of events are great because they promote the artist and the venue, they raise awareness for a cause, AND they help raise funds for the non-profit.

Luckily, my first experience with a non-profit art auction couldn’t have gone any better. The auction included all local artists, and my art was even featured in a museum. It was truly an awesome feeling, watching people pondering over my work and discussing it in that setting.

But I have to give credit where it’s due. . . the reason why my first experience went so well is because I have several yoda-like mentors who bequeathed some truly sage advice on a moment’s notice. As a result, I was able to hurdle some common mistakes that I’m sure would have derailed my chances at being included in this fundraiser.

To pay it forward, here are 6 tips for any artist being featured at their first non-profit art auction (or, for any artist who is even considering donating their art for auction).

1. Think twice before donating to every cause

I figured I’d start with the most controversial tip. . . but it might also be the most important. If you donate to EVERY cause, then you’re simply diluting your market value. And in the long run, that’s going to hurt your ability to sell.

Now, if you’re not making art to make a living, then there’s no reason you can’t donate as much as you want.

But for everyone else, it’s important that you don’t get so caught up in trying to get your art in front of people that you forget about the business side of it all.

I had an artist friend who went on a long spree of donating his artwork to every cause under the sun. Later, he approached an art gallery in the area to sell his work. They said, “Why wouldn’t people just wait for the next charity event to buy one of your pieces. . . ?” Damn. Needless to say, they didn’t feature his artwork.

2. Choose art-related non-profits (if possible)

Let’s be honest. If you’re thinking about donating art to a fundraiser, it’s probably not all about the cause. And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with donating as a way to gain exposure for yourself AND support something you believe in.

So, with your career in mind, I’ll tell you right now that the best types of art auction fundraisers are the ones that are already in the field of art. Basically, anything that benefits artists, art institutions, or bring the art community together.

When you get involved and donate art to these kinds of auctions, it gives you the chance to really market your work. You’ll get the right kind of exposure, and you’ll meet people who might be interested in supporting YOU as an artist, beyond this one event.

3. Learn about the auction and the people behind it

Communicate with the people throwing the event. You should have a discussion about what types of art are generally presented, which kinds sell the best, and what they believe to be reasonable price ranges.

Learn exactly how your name will appear. Will it come with a bio? Will it be presented in a catalog or next to the artwork?

And here’s something that proved especially fruitful for me: ask for previous auction catalogs. Learn what types of art has been presented before, and sold well. This could give you a leg up on selling your artwork for a respectable price.

4. Don’t hesitate to set a reserve

One of the reasons artists get (understandably) nervous about auctions is because their art could sell for next to nothing. You’d hate to see a winning bid so low that your artwork appears cheap, or atypical when compared to your sales in other venues.

So here’s a secret: if you’re uneasy about letting go of your art at a low bid price, see if the people running the auction will allow you to use a “reserve.”

For instance, you could set the reserve at $450, and start the bidding at $150. The painting won’t sell if it doesn’t hit the reserve, and the reserve isn’t known to bidders until the bidding reaches it. If the artwork doesn’t sell, at least there was buzz and action surrounding the bidding!

5. Always donate your best work!

Donating art to a fundraiser isn’t the same as donating furniture to Goodwill. This isn’t your opportunity to give away work that you feel is not up to par with your normal standards of quality.

Instead, remember that each piece you present to the public is someone’s first time being introduced to your work. Your art represents you! Make sure your pieces put you in a good light and that each artwork is one to remember.

6. Communicate often, and be reasonable

In my experience, this last tip sounds like the most obvious, but it’s probably (shockingly!) the least followed. Just stay communicative with the people hosting the event and do everything you can to work with them.

I’ve seen some really talented artists shoot themselves in the foot because of their eccentric personalities. Others fail to respond to emails from the organizers, and wonder why they got cut from the auction. I’ve also seen some artists who are so stubborn about how their art is presented that they can’t work with organizers.

My take? Work with the organizers as best as you can!

It’s great to just be a part of an event like this. . . so make the opportunity count, and make yourself someone that the organizers will call for their next fundraiser, too.

Special thanks to Charlie T. Savage of bno.com for submitting this post!


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