Donations to shows

I’d like to solicit opinions from folks who sell at craft
fairs/shows about the practice of asking for/demanding the donation
of a piece for auction. Often, it is optional. I never know whether
I should give one, or how “good” a one. So far, I have not been able
to discern any benefit to myself, but so many artists do it that I
feel I must be missing something. Or is it a racket? I’m not talking
about when the place I teach asks for donations to raise funds. I
just mean those shows where you pay your fees, but they want a
donation as well. What do you think of this? Thanks!


Hello Noel, Good question and I’ll be looking at your responses. My
own solution was creating a design that I designate as my charitable
donation item. Whenever the request comes, that’s what I give.
Since that design has been in use for a few years, I believe it is
time to retire it and come up with a new one. Judy in Kansas where we
should see all the snow accumulations since late January melt off -
Temps to be in the 60sF!

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
B.A.E. 237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhatttan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936 FAX (785) 532-6944

Whether or not I donate a piece for an auction depends on who is
going to benefit from the donation. If I am approached at a show, I
ask that the person send me a letter on the letterhead of the
organization with full as to its purpose, etc…I will
then check around to see if t he organization is a reputable one.
I resist the impuse to reach into my case and hand over a piece of my
work to some person who may or may not be honest as to what will
be done with the piece. When I am in an invitational or juried
show, I am always happy to donate as the sponsor s of the show are
always upfront as to how funds generated from the auctio n will be
used–scholarships, or to benefit some non-profit organization. I
usually try to make a generous donation of one of my best pieces as
it i s going for a good cause. I do have some favorites—such as
funds going f or art student scholarships, or for organizations
helping needy families (a n ever growing list these days), or some
person in dire straits. Alma.

I don’t think most artists really like this - I feel that it raises
the cost of a show - I think all we donate to - it is a requirement
and most ask for $100 minimum item. but if we want to do those
shows, we have to donate.

Hi Noel, One artist benefit is that you can often donate an older
piece that hasn’t sold, and get it out of your inventory. I’ve done
that and the donation actually got me some custom work from the
person who won the auction and just loved the jewelry. I usually
donate a necklace, which leads to other work when the winners want
earrings to go with it. The shows where I’ve donated do make that
optional, but typically the donations are for a cause I support, so
I don’t have a problem making the donation. Last year was the first
year I did any donations, and have recently heard that you can’t use
the retail price for tax purposes, but can only write off the cost
of the materials…will have to check with our tax person (whomever
that might be this year; we were quite unhappy with our guy last
year). If anyone knows the straight story on donations / taxes, I’d
love your input. FWIW, Jill

If I do a commercial show where they ask for a booth fee AND a
donation, I give something small, or nothing, depending on the amount
of the booth fee. If it’s a show that’s a fundraiser for something,
and/or there is no booth fee, I will donate something bigger/worth
more. For very special fundraising events, I will sometimes make up
unique items as donations. I often try out new designs on these
things, and judge public approval by how well they do on the auction.
(Note, I’m not working in higher end materials–I only do sterling
and beads).

I can’t write these donations off on my taxes, because I’ve already
deducted the cost of the supplies to make the items. So I look upon
them as a form of advertising.

When I make such a donation, I attach it to a pre-printed postcard
that I’ve made up that says “donated by Feathered Gems Jewelry”, and
has all my contact info and website URL printed on it. Then I bag the
whole thing in a proper sized zip bag to keep it clean. I’ve gotten
quite a bit of repeat business from people who’ve won my donations
and liked my work. And the cards have the effect of making my work
stand out from other items on the donation display, which increases
my advertising potential from the donation. If people notice my item
on the donation table and like it, they usually seek me out during
the show to check out the rest of my work.

This may not work for others, but I’m dealing with a niche market of
animal owners, and this idea works pretty well for me.

–Kathy Johnson
Feathered Gems Pet Motif Jewelry

Hi Noel-- and all Orchidians. I’ve been reading with interest the
thread on auctions. In the “small world” category, we (the
Professional Guidelines Committee) are currently working on the
Auctions Document for the Professional Guidelines group of reference
documents featured on the SNAG website:

These documents cover-- and will expand to cover more-- many issues
of concern vital to the arts community. They are incredibly useful
tools for any artists selling their work, showing at galleries,
shipping, etc. Please visit the web site.

We have no firm date on the posting of the the Auctions guideline,
but be assured that we are working tirelessly on it and it will not
be too long until it is completed.

On a personal note, I’d love to hear more of your experiences-- both
positive and negative-- regarding donating to fund raising auctions.

Andy Cooperman, Board Liaison, Professional Guidelines Committee.

Several things need to be considered when looking at this. Most of
the time you will get little publicity or return for the donation in
terms of additional purchases. Sometimes this is not true, but more
often than not it is true. So don’t do it expecting to get increased
visibility or sales. Don’t do it for a tax deduction either - you can
only deduct the actual cost of materials - not your retail price! If
it is a cause you believe in, this may not matter to you. Otherwise
it should matter! Most organizations requesting artists to donate do
NOT understand the tax code, and have no clue what they are really
asking. Do they ask doctors and lawyers to donate their services?
If they really want your donation, they need to arrange for someone
to buy your work and donate it, and for you to make a cash donation
of the value of the work. The person who purchased your work and
donated it can deduct the purchase price. You make the cash
donation, which you can then deduct as a cash donation. Thus you
both get the tax benefit.

You should NOT be required to make a “donation” to be in a show. If
it is required, it is not a donation! Sounds like strong arm
techniques to me!

I rarely donate pieces for the above reasons. When I do, it is
because I wish to support the cause, not because I expect to get any
particular business or tax benefit from the donation. Then I don’t
feel that I have been “taken”, but rather that I have done my bit for
a good cause.

Best wishes to all.
Beth in SC who is enjoying the warm weather!

Hi, Andy, First, let me say how much I admire and enjoy your work.
Now, on to business-- Thanks for the guidelines URL. I was hoping to
find guidelines there for images being published in a book or other
publication. Maybe eventually!

On the auction situation: I don’t mind being asked to donate for
"worthy causes". As others have commented, I give or not depending on
how I feel about the cause. So far, T haven’t seen any benefit other
than that “warm glow”-- no sign that the visibility of the auction
donation has paid off. That’s OK. What bothers me is the shows that
just ask for a donation to help support the show, in addition to the
fee. A local show I’ve been doing for years has started asking. This
show is put on by the city of Evanston, which is not my favorite
charity. To add insult to injury, their first place prize (which I
have won several times) is a mere $100, not even as much as the booth
fee. This all seems pretty tacky. Obviously, no one is making me do
the show, at which I fairly painlessly make a modest profit on those
years when the weather allows. I just wanted to see whether others
see any reason to donate in situations like this, and what peoples’
thoughts are. I’m sure there are many situations where a donation
"pays for itself" in extra publicity, which would make it worth it
even when the cause does not… right?


We had a thread like this last year and I will reiterate some of
what I said then, for the sake of those who (like me) find it
somewhat aversive to search the archives.

When my local arts organization does its annual fundraising auction,
we are offered 2 options: we can donate a piece entirely, or we can
donate 40% of its selling price. This year, I offered 9 pieces in the
silent auction, of which 8 sold (somebody then immediately wanted the
9th piece, and paid full retail, which was very gratifying.) The two
least expensive were full donations, the others “percentage”
donations–and I was there, hanging out by my case, selling my ass

We also are asked to set our own prices: a “minimum bid,” which
should be wholesale or less, and a “declared value,” which appears
on the bidding form, and is full retail. Most pieces sell at minimum
bid, but I had “bidding wars” on a couple of pieces this year, which
means that both I, and the organization, did better than expected.

I also had one piece, which you can see in my “members gallery” at, which I knew (when I made it) would be a hard
sell, bu t for which I also knew I would feel cheated if I didn’t
pocket at least $100 . So I set my values accordingly and got my
hundred bucks and someone who would never have bought it retail is
now its proud possesser, although I have no idea if she’ll wear it
anywhere except in the boudoir. I modeled it for her, pulling down my
knit top to show her how well the scarab nestles i n ones
dE9colletage and how beautiful the piece looks against the skin.
And…it was a relief to sell it, because I needed the money.

So…why not, when asked for a donation, say, “Some organizations
offer the artist the option of donating a percentage of the selling
price” and start negotiating–unless you really want to donate it
all? if more of us pushed for such a set-up, more of us would get it.

As for for-profit shows that ask for donations…what on earth…?

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments
Benicia CA

The only payoff is for the promoter. What does publicity do for you?
Perhaps there is a mention of your name in the handouts, but do you
think this might result in a sale? This is not sarcasm; I just
believe it doesn’t do much for your bottom line. On the other hand,
if the show is profitable enough, consider it part of the cost of
doing business. I have been doing “art fairs” for a long time and
depend on these shows to earn my living. I personally would not do
a show if the application “requests” a donation. If one is a
hobbyist or part-timer the considerations may be quite different. The
bottom line for me is I think it’s “cheesey”. If a promoter needs
the money they should raise the fees for their booth spaces. K Kelly

Noel et al, I think that you will find that much of what we have
concluded in the Auction Guidelines will address many of the concerns
raised. These Guidelines are just that-- guidelines-- and seek to
point out the issues and concerns inherent in each subject addressed
as well as listing many of the nuts and bolts details associated with
each subject.

In the end, of course, it is each individual artist and craftsman
who must decide for themselves how best to proceed. No two
situations or set of goals desired are identical.

Personally, what concerns me about fund raising auctions is the fact
that it seems so many of them seem to be built on the backs of the
artists and craftsmen-- sometimes the very demographic they
ostensibly support. There seems to be a perception that artists will
always be happy to give, that they are doing this for fun anyway and
that their labor is somehow not tied to cash flow and groceries.
This points to a larger misperception about artists-- they are
flakes, eccentrics and dabblers-- that I know better than to get into
on a Sunday night. The demand of shows for a donation is simply
extortion and should be ignored, in my opinion, and abandoned by the
sponsors. If they are desperate for cash, they should raise their

I’m not sure how much exposure is actually generated by donating.
For some, no doubt, there lie rewards in this area but for most I
believe the net effect is a loss. Personally, I rarely give to
auctions and resent the implication that I have encountered that I am
not supporting my community. The attitude of so many auction
organizations is condescending and demonstrates a lack of respect for
what artists make and who they are.

Enough said. Take care, Andy Cooperman

As an artist making a living solely by my work in both jewelry and
blown glass for the past almost 30 years, I am asked on a regular
basis to donate for fundraising auctions. The solution I figured out
about 25 years ago has worked extremely well all these years. I
listen to ‘the ask’, then explain that my standard policy is to
donate half the piece, and the organization (or an individual in it)
pays the other half so I can cover my costs. They usually understand
it when I tell them I just paid a $2000 gas bill for 30 days worth. I
have some small pieces that start at $50., so $25 gets them a piece,
but usually they spend much more. I’ve worked with several different
Rotaries, Sertoma, the list is long, for many years. I always include
a studio tour with demo (hot glass is always a draw) as an additional
item for them to auction (without charge of course). One group is so
much fun, I donate dinner at our house every year, and they always
spend money when we tour the studio. Beth is right, donating will not
increase your sales, and it’s not deducible any further than
materials. By asking for half, it weeds out those that really want
the work from those who are just looking for something for nothing.
Baker O’Brien

Go Andy!!! I couldn’t agree with your statement below more!

The attitude of so many auction organizations is condescending and
demonstrates a lack of respect for what artists make and who they

IF artists were truly respected, then they would be treated in the
same way that teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc. are. I
don’t believe I have ever been to an auction that offered medical or
legal services, or a plumber’s services, or tutoring, etc. from any
other profession! It is always art auctions - given that we are just
playing around, of course we can donate the results of our play!

I like the percentage idea - since you basically don’t get a tax
deduction for art donations anyway, getting a percentage sale would
be wonderful!

Beth in SC

Well, I think you’re right on, Andy. I often find myself wondering
where it was written that artists shall work for free… where did
that expectation come from? It’s not just shows but magazines and
publishers that now also think giving advertising coverage will
somehow cover the cost of all the labor an artist puts in. Didn’t
used to be this way but the trend seems to be expanding these days
and it’s certainly a concern.

That’s not to say that I haven’t periodically worked for advertising
coverage or given donations… but one does need to balance the pros
and cons carefully. There’s a larger issue here and a very
disconcerting trend in general.

I once had an art instructor who began our program by giving us all
a mantra, "Ommm, I will not work for free, Ommm, I will not work for
free… "

I am going to start requesting that I be allowed to donate a gift
certificate. Then, hopefully, they will apply it to a purchase price
of a piece.

J. S. Ellington

Bravo, Andy! I couldn’t agree more. I was at a show last year that
requested a donation. Being my first request of this kind and fairly
new to shows, I guess I didn’t think beyond just giving an item. The
woman running the show was so rude, in my opinion! I will NEVER go
back to that show. She never thanked me for the donation; never came
back to say who won it, if they liked it, what the funds went for,
etc. Next time I am approached for a donation, I will ask questions
and then if I decide I want to donate to the cause, I will feel good
about it. If it is required, I won’t go to the show. The booth fee
should be enough to run their show.

  • Dee Dee

It has been my experience that no spin-off sales come from donating
to various fund-raisers. Now I will only do it if I personally
support the charity in question and it gives me the warm fuzzies to
do so. Art auctions have become a popular way to raise money, and for
people to buy cheap art. This will de-value the work of many talented
artists. It is totally okay to ask for a minimum starting bid on your
work. It is also okay to ask for a percentage of the sale to help
cover materials,etc. It can be a mutually beneficial thing. If the
organizers are not willing to do either of these, I would not donate.
Our time and efforts are valuable and should be respected as such.
Cheers from the sunny Kootenays, Jeannette