The Best Advice We’ve Heard About Donating Art to Charity

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Landscape photographer, Scott Forsyth and Impressionist painter, Mark Salevitz are two extremely talented artists represented by Agora Gallery. Over the course of their artistic careers, they have each donated a number of artworks to benefit various charities.

As this is a topic many artists are curious about, and is particularly close to people’s hearts and minds during the festive season of giving, we interviewed these artists to learn more about their experience with donating art to charity. They have some great advice for artists looking to give back to society in their own way.

donating art to charity

What sort of donations do you make? What is it that draws you to donating art to charity?

Scott: I’m approached about three times a year, generally about donations to auctions that will benefit a charity. Charities like “Meals on Wheels” or The Liver Foundation, The Children’s Hospital, Art a la Cart for the Calgary Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Air Cadets etc. Other than that, I also donate a portion of the proceeds from each art piece sold (50% of the profit) to two specific institutions – The Nature Conservancy of Canada (a private company dedicated to conserving vital habitat landscapes) and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), because I think that the work they do is incredibly important, and because I have a connection to their cause, since so much of my work is based on and reflects my love and experience of the diverse Canadian landscape.

It is nice to have a positive contribution come from the creation of the artwork. It is also a good way to create a positive relationship with the local community and to gain exposure to future art buyers and supporters.

donating art to charity
Mark Salevitz || Opening reception at Agora gallery, 2015

Mark: I have had the opportunity to donate my art to charity through the years to various organizations.

I try to choose those groups that I am familiar with and that I support – that way, the donations make sense in terms of the role they play in my life, complementing my other forms of connection to those groups and their work.

There is something special about being able to give artwork in particular, though, rather than a monetary donation. It’s more personal as if I have helped by giving something of myself. It’s great to know that something I have created will go to benefit causes I have close to my heart.

I have given pieces to local animal rescue groups as well as to hospital fundraisers and children’s groups, because those are the causes I want to support in general, and because I know that those groups will really benefit from the artwork that I am donating.

How do you decide which charities to donate your work to?

Scott: I’m willing to donate to almost any charity that has approached me. To date, it hasn’t been so overwhelming as to make it necessary for me to pick and choose. However, I prefer charities that will issue a tax receipt for the donation and will track the value of the picture auctioned and provide me with that feedback.

I also prefer venues that are willing to display the artwork in a favorable light with plenty of promotional materials – cards, brochures etc. – to help expose my name to the audience. This sort of detail is something artists might not consider beforehand, but it’s extremely important, and best discussed early on, so that everyone is clear about what will be involved and compromises or adjustments can be made if necessary.

Mark: As far as the decision about which artworks to donate, what I usually do is direct the group’s organizers to my website and allow them to pick one or more works.

donating art to charity
Mark Salevitz || Cactus Garden, Acrylic on Canvas

Then, once they have a sense of what I have and what might be best for them, we discuss together what would be most appropriate for their event. This varies depending on what is being asked for, and I have found in the past that this discussion process is worthwhile, both for me and for the organizers.

That way, everything is clear from the start, and everyone feels that they have had a hand in the decision which we all know is best for the case.

I know that my art is appreciated, and the organizers get to think through what they’re looking for and work out what they really need. I find that these sorts of discussions are also good for getting across any ideas I have about how to present or treat the artworks.

I have never had to give any specific limits or argue over restrictions, because after we have discussed the matter together, the organizers are generally happy to follow my advice and accommodate my opinions or preferences. The key is to keep the discussion friendly and respectful – not difficult when you’re happy to be donating to a cause you believe in, and they are pleased that you’re interested in helping them.

On some occasions, I have been able to be present during the fundraiser and auctions. I find this exciting but nerve-racking as I get to see how my art is received. It can be a great opportunity for artists, both in terms of making contacts and publicity, and in terms of being able to analyze the reactions to the piece in question. On the other hand, I can see that it might not be for everyone; as I say, I find the experience intimidating!

Have you had any particularly memorable experiences with donating art to charity?

Scott: I donated a picture (Torngat Mountains National Park) created on an Adventure Canada excursion from Greenland to Labrador, to an Adventure Canada fundraiser for supporting Northern Canadian Communities, at the unveiling of a new Arctic Film in Calgary Alberta, Canada.

The winner of the picture was none other than the founder of the Oasis Nature TV channel and Discovery Channel. He was a pleasure to meet and a wonderful person to have exposed to my landscape art project. He has become a very valuable fan of my photography and a helpful source of contacts for future projects.

Mark: The worst experience I had was when I donated a work to an animal rescue group and instead of them using it to promote their cause, the painting was given as a personal gift to a friend of the shelter owners. Since that time I have been more alert as to how the works will be used (silent vs live auction, short-term vs long-term use, etc.).

I would recommend that all artists considering donations have these sorts of discussions with those they are donating to before agreeing finally on the donation. It’s much better for everyone to be clear about what’s involved.

Do you have any advice for artists who are interested in donating art to charity about the best ways to do it?

donating art to charity
Scott Forsyth speaking before the reception opening. Agora gallery, 2016

Scott: It’s best to ask up front for a tax donation receipt for your estimated value of the artwork – not for the amount that the work is eventually sold for at auction. Ask about the manner in which the artwork will be displayed and provide promotional material to accompany it so that people can pick up your cards and become aware of your website etc.

If there are specific venues you would like to donate to, don’t hesitate to contact the event organizers and offer your products. For example, Banff Alberta hosts a celebrity event each January and offers many people the opportunity to donate items for a fundraising auction as part of the event.

Often Hollywood celebrities purchase these items and bring them back to another world and market. All it takes to participate is to approach the organizers well in advance and request a space in the auction.

Mark: One should check with an accountant in regards to donations, as there can be a tax-deductible element to consider if one is donating to a registered charity. This is not an area I know much about, however, because I do not donate to make a profit and so it has never been a crucial consideration for me. However, it would be a good thing to learn more about.

I think that donating a work is both good business in regards to exposure but more importantly allows one to feel that one is giving back in an immediate way. My advice to anyone who is donating their work is to research the institution and only donate to those causes that one believes in. For someone who does want to contribute to a beloved cause in this way, I can recommend it. There is great joy in helping.

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Have you donated your art to support a cause? Share your experiences in the comment box below.


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13 responses to “The Best Advice We’ve Heard About Donating Art to Charity”

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  9. Natalie Wainwright avatar

    Since an artist can’t take a charitable deduction for work they s/he him/herself made, then when Mr. Forsyth says in the article above that, “It’s best to ask up front for a tax donation receipt for your estimated value of the artwork…” to what artwork is he referring? Not his own, it seems, but that certainly appears to be the implication. Can you comment?

    1. Daisy O Connell avatar

      Hi Natalie,

      The purpose of the receipt is so the artist can declare the art as sold, then claim the charitable donation of the amount it was sold for.

  10. Patricia A. Thornton avatar

    Note Karen’s comment above. She’s right. Artists cannot take a charitable deduction for a donated work of their making – except for the cost basis: canvas and paint or other materials.

  11. Karen avatar

    Artists cannot deduct the value of their artwork, only the cost to produce it.

  12. Kathy avatar

    I just got started donating art to charity last year. My prints are inexpensive, and I have donated them to an animal rescue in exchange for donations over a specified amount. As I know how much the prints have actually sold for and keep records of that, I do record the donation on a spreadsheet. To date I’ve helped raise $400 for rescue activities, which is great for the modestly priced prints ($50-$50) I donate. I’m reaching out to other causes, offering relevant prints for raffle/sales/silent auctions or thank you gifts for specific donations.

    I love it when the prints go quickly and I get nice comments back. I try to be patient when I make an offer and get the “we need to talk to the board” – essentially putting my donation on hold til “whenever.” The main concern this generates is that by the time they get around to saying yes (just made two offers this month, but they won’t commit til fall), I may be engaged with other charities or even have sold the prints I have in mind to donate. In a way, “no thank you” within a short period would be better than “we’ll have to see.” It’s – mannerly, I guess.

    I do like being able to provide support to good causes without tapping out my retirement income, which is adequate but not extensive. I just keep excellent records – the tax writeoffs help support the art, and also the charity donations.