Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Gives? Donating Your Work for a Cause--by Karen McGovern

I am an artist.  I am also a conservation biologist working for a non-profit organization that relies on donations  in order to survive.  Because of that, I am also a rather unwilling fundraiser.  I say unwilling because fund-raising isn't my strongest talent...I'm a farm girl, more comfortable tossing hay than chatting up potential donors.  None the less, I have managed to merge my two passions--art and wildlife conservation--in one annual event.   Every year in February I host (with a dear friend) a 3-day wildlife art show called "Wild Things" featuring artists from around the country.  Participants donate to our organization (the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation)  25% of their sales and one piece of art for a raffle.  It's a fun show, entering into our 8th year, getting bigger and better every time.


This year's show featured amazing art of all kinds,
roving animals, and--of course--fabulous art jewelry!
Click here for more photos from the event....

The show is dependent on participating artists willing to donate both time and artwork for the cause.  I live in Palm Beach County, Florida, and during "Season" (November through April) our area becomes the winter vacation hot-spot for some of the country's wealthiest residents.  There are events held nearly every day of the week during this almost 6 month period, many representing non-profits far larger and more high-profile than RSCF.  The competition for funds and donations is FIERCE to say the least, and many of my artist friends are asked over and over to donate works for various causes and events.  The fact that many annually support me is wonderful, humbling, and I am ever grateful.  I know how hard these folks work--struggling to survive--and I know how hard it is to give anything away...which leads me to my point:  How much is too much to ask or give?  Do artists really benefit from donating their work to charity?

In the beginning, I pitched the benefits of donating to our show with the usual.  "You'll be featured on the invitation and program", I said. "We'll link you on our website, blog and Facebook page", I promised, as if that would rocket them into international fame or something.  The bottom line is that most artists, myself included, donate work to individuals and charities we care about personally, and should expect nothing  in return except a written acknowledgement for tax purposes and heartfelt thanks from the organization or person you helped.  That has to be benefit enough.  If you are expecting more, prepare to be disappointed.  Your support is a tremendous gift and hopefully you give it because you really want to help and believe in the mission.  Period.

I've read blogs and posts both for and against artists donating or discounting their work for charity.  I suppose if you are a well-known artist inundated with requests, this is a subject of real concern.  You can't say yes to everyone...but hopefully you will say yes on occasion to those worthy causes whose mission resonates with you.  And, if you are like most of us, an artist struggling to make ends meet, the idea of giving away your work may simply be impossible.  I so get that.

None the less, I am shameless in my quest to raise funds and awareness for wildlife conservation.  I truly believe art and nature are intrinsically linked--you cannot have one without the other.  That is why I try, whenever I can, to come up with ideas that support handmade art, independent artists, and conservation.  In order to do that I need artists willing to donate either sales percentages, artwork, or both to raise much needed funds for organizations working like mad, as we speak, to save what remains of nature.  Forgive me for standing on a soapbox here (an artisan, hand-painted and hand-constructed mixed media soapbox, mind you), but this is a subject that plagues me every year.  How to balance the need to raise funds and awareness with my desire to create an art show that is more than worth-while for the artists participating.
Our 2013 show invitation featuring our golden-lion tamarin
photographed by art photographer Melinda Moore.
I'd really like to hear what you all think--artists, do you donate works or sales proceeds to charity?  If so, do you do this often?  If not, can you share your reasons?  What suggestions do you have for charities to make donating worth your while?  If you are a buyer/collector, does knowing the artwork you are considering has a sales proceed directed to charity influence your decision to buy?  There are no right or wrong answers here, it's a personal as well as professional decision either way, and I respect that.  Your feedback would be really helpful and I thank you in advance.

I close with 2 things:  1) a link to a new endeavor I am working on to bring artists together in support of grass-roots wildlife conservation.  It's called Because We Can Studio.  Please read our "About" section-- I'd really appreciate your opinions, thoughts and suggestions.  And 2) I want you to meet my friend and one of the anchor artists for RSCF's show, Anthony Burks.  He's ridiculously talented, and equally generous.  He paints live during the show, and during this year's opening night party he surprised me by donating the ORIGINAL PAINTING HE HAD JUST FINISHED to be raffled off at the close of the evening. ORIGINAL, not a print.  I cried like a baby.   You need to see his work, share his links, find him on Facebook, and spread the love...
Anthony, working on the amazing painting of a great
green macaw that he then DONATED!!
 Also, artists--don't kill me if I hit you up sometime for the show.  I mean, think of all the publicity I'll throw your...oh, screw it.  The next show isn't until February 2014, so you're safe--for now.

Until next time, I've got some critters to feed....
A few of the endangered creatures in our care...a pygmy marmoset baby
who loves toothbrush massages, and baby red-browed Amazon parrots.

9 comments:

koko said...

Great post Karen! As a collector, I love to buy things that support a cause I believe in- I would happily spend more for it. For the last few years I have given "adopted" animals from WWF as gifts and am always looking for more opportunities like that for gifts. I also like to purchase items that have some association to the cause- like the beautiful green macaw painting!

Alice said...

Such a worthy cause!! I live in a small town and have been asked to donate my jewelry for events. I'm happy to do this but always ask that my business card be kept with the gift box. Lately though sales have been horrid and I feel like I should decline, but in a small town that's bad business......

McPeanuts said...

Your dedication and passion are so inspiring!! (And not just because of the pretty, bedazzled, multimedia, handcrafted soapbox).
My company sponsors a different charity monthly. Yes, monthly. About 1\2 have a raffle, and seek donations. Im a believer in giving. And , no, I don't needanything in return, besides a receipt, thank you. Although, I have eliminated some, just due to lack of appreciation. ( "Expecting" a donation from someone is just not appropriate. ) Then there are the local charities who approach you at shows and in your own backyard. Though I hate to say no, in the end, there are only so many pieces that can be given away, and they have to go to the causes that speak most loudly to your heart.

Diane (Dewdrop Designs) said...

I too, love nature and animals. From the time I was 17 'til I became permanently disabled at age 37, my life's passion and work was all work with directly with animals and education people about wild animals and wild places save for 2 short lived jobs just to have money coming in while in between animal jobs. So you can see, your organization resonates deeply with me. I have donated jewelry pieces to both local animal rescue organizations as well as my son's school. He goes to a very special very small school for kids who are very smart but have certain issues like Aspergers, PPD and learning disabilities. As I live in a poor rural area, the school is amazing with how much they work to keep tuition low, only a fraction of what tuition is at other local private schools. My son, animals and the environment, the 3 things I am most passionate about in life! By the way, I do not get any advertising for my donations (except my tag and description card on the actual item. I have found out how much people are willing to pay for my jewelry though. So far, all of my donations have gone to silent auctions and all but one have not been for people with a lot of money, so they usually earn only a small amount over what I feel it is worth. I do it because it is the only way I am able to help organizations that I care deeply about. Due to my disability, I can not donate money or physical work/volunteer for them.

Marsha of Marsha Neal Studio said...

I think no matter what, everyone should attempt in some way - to support nature (plants, animals, ecosystems, etc). I try to do it every day by simply planting native plants that are used by the local animals and insects, which also helps with keeping the local ecosystems in tact...

The work you do Karen is remarkable! With animals and art!!! Cannot wait to see how things progress for 2014!

Gloria G said...

Hi Marsha, I did a show in 2001 which featured paintings of animals that were either endangered on close to it, taken from a trip to the San Diego Zoo. I would be happy to donate one if you would like it. As far as donating, I do donate jewelry and I have never had one sale or even a thank you from a raffle winner or any acknowledgement from groups that I donated to. That is kind of a bummer and doesn't make me to prone to donating in the future.

Karen McGovern said...

Thank you all for your comments! Donating is indeed a personal decision, and as an artists and fund raiser, I also understand how important it is to do whatever I can to ensure donating artists get the most out of their donation. Showing appreciation and follow-up are vital. Thanks for all you guys do...wish me luck in 2014!!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

I donate to CNY SPCA. It is always some sort of art work since I can afford my time more than I can cash. Today, they had their first, of what might become a regular event, children's birthday party. It just so happened to be my granddaughter. My son works their and although the work is tough, he is reminded daily about what good is being done. I have been wanting to learn to etch, so while on vacation, I watched a few videos. I then came home to etch "dog tag" necklaces to give out to the kids. I wasn't able to stick around for the entire event, but I can say that I will continue to donate for future birthday parties. I hope I get better at etching in the future, so that I do not make such a mess while doing it! I'm rambling, but I think donating anything comes from the heart and the rewards are knowing that you helped a good cause. Good luck, Karen! I admire what you do :o) MaryAnn
PS Anyone planning on etching in the future, do not do it over a stainless steel sink!

Alison Perris said...

I can feel your point, Karen. It’s really darn frustrating for an artist to reach out and help others who are in need without being judged for their good intentions, especially if there’s money involved. However, if your intentions are true, I guess what others think wouldn’t matter anymore as long as you know that you can help those less fortunate ones.

Allison Perris

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