Brophy Principal: Giving Art to Worthy Causes while Protecting the Value

Brophy Principal: Giving Art to Worthy Causes while Protecting the Value

Photo by Aaron Bickford

Photo by Aaron Bickford

It’s common for artists to be asked by various charities and not-for-charities (companies) to “DONATE” artwork or painting services for their cause.

Here are some benefits of giving art to charities:

1.)  You feel good about giving to a charity that you love & you get to help them further the cause

2.)  You may get media coverage (usually not)

3.)  You may gain new art collectors (this rarely happens, but it can)

Don’t do it for the write off – ACCORDING TO THE I.R.S. YOU CANNOT WRITE OFF YOUR TIME.  ONLY YOUR MATERIALS.  Many people do not know that you can only write off the cost that you actually paid for your materials – which you already are writing off if you are a professional artist.

A question I get from many artists is:  How much or how often should I give to charities? My answer is to set up a criteria for yourself and follow it.  Further in this post I share our Principals on giving to charities.  But first, a little explanation:

We get about 20 requests A WEEK form various charities, schools and companies asking for us to donate art.  There is a limitless supply of charities! I recommend that you choose 2 or 3 of your favorite charities, and focus entirely on them so that you can actually make a difference in a cause that you care about.

We’ve developed our own principals on how to give to worthy causes and at the same time not give away the store.  It’s nice to be generous, but be careful not to lower the value of your art.  It’s a delicate balance.  And there’s one really important thing to realize:

When you have collectors who buy your art, it’s important to protect the value of it FOR THEIR SAKE. If you won’t do it for yourself, at least do it for the people who have supported your art career by purchasing art from you.


In order for us to give artwork to a cause, the cause or group must meet at least FOUR of the following SIX criteria:

1.)  IT IS A BONIFIDE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION: We get a lot of companies asking for free stuff, and if they aren’t non-profit, they don’t fall into the category of a worthy cause.

2.)  WE MUST FEEL PASSION FOR THE CAUSE: Drew and I have 3 causes that we are dedicated to.  These charities we always say yes to, because we love them and what they are doing for our planet.  Most other causes are nice, but not our passion.

3.) THE ARTWORK WILL BE AUCTIONED OR SOLD PROPERLY:  (This principal is mandatory) If  it’s being auctioned, it must begin with a proper starting price so that it is sold at or above the $ price that we would sell it for out of our studio, so as not to lower the value of other works we’ve sold.  (Here’s an example of what went wrong once:   We donated a full-surfboard painting to a Ball a few years ago.  We sell these boards $2,500.00.  It auctioned for $850.00.  This was devastating to us!  This is an example of how you can lower the value of existing art if you aren’t careful.  We learned a big lesson and we are now intimately involved in the pricing and make damn sure they understand the importance of getting the proper $ dollar amount.)

4.)  WE WILL GET PAID A PERCENTAGE OF THE EARNINGS:  Some charities will provide the artist with anywhere from 20% to 60% of the auctioned or sold price of the artwork.  I love working with these charities and almost always say yes to them.  It’s fair, and I think that all charities should do this for the donating artists. (We have a piece in the “PRE-EXISTING CONDITION” EXHIBITION – all artists get a % of the sales.)

5.)  THERE IS GUARANTEED MEDIA EXPOSURE:  And I mean GUARANTEED not just a maybe.  Many people will promise media exposure for the artist, but usually it doesn’t happen.  We’ve been promised the moon and got nothing a few times.  Now I ask for it in writing, if the media exposure is the main reason we are doing it.

6.)  WE HAVEN’T EXCEEDED OUR YEARLY QUOTA OF $20,000:  We have $20,000 as a total benchmark to give away each year.  Usually we reach this early in the year.  Sometimes we make an exception to the rule, when something really important comes up or a great opportunity or if Surfrider calls.  Set your own quota  that you can afford and stick with it.

I recommend that you come up with your own personal principals for giving to charities, and use that as a guideline. Just be careful that your artwork is appreciated and respected and that it auctions for a fair market value.  You owe that to your collectors.

Share in the comments your own experiences or thoughts on donating artwork.  I’d like to hear some feedback on this!

Spunk BrophyThanks for reading – Maria “Spunk” Brophy xxoo

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  • Donating Art and the Solution by Maria Brophy | Maggie's Angels Blog
    Posted at 10:28h, 22 May

    […] A few years ago we instituted guidelines for charities.  I wrote about it on Drew Brophy’s blog back in September – you can read that here. […]

  • Sandra Miller
    Posted at 08:16h, 29 January

    What an excellent article. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us. One other think I would like to add to experiences in donating to charities and clubs. I now require all donations to be followed up by a report to me containing the highest bidders name, contact info and winning bid amount within ten days of auction closing.

    The reason being, is it was brought to my attention a few years ago that a number of my art donations were “pocketed” by members of various auction committees for their personal use/display in their homes. The items never made it to the auction block! This should never happen

    Get a final report in writing

  • Paula Christen
    Posted at 07:03h, 14 October

    R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We artists need to give it to ourselves first. Value your work and maybe, by that example, the lightbulb will go off with organizations who ask for your donations. I love your Brophy Principal guidelines Maria. They will be incorporated into my business. Thanks!

  • Cecily Jones
    Posted at 11:54h, 17 September

    hey Maria,

    Wow, I wish I had read this back when I had Fired Up. I was asked by about 20 organizations a week to donate as well, and somehow on the ‘case by case’ basis I ended up giving so much away and devaluing my business for my real customers. The idea of very specific criteria and a cap is essential, as well as picking just a few charities to truly make an impact with. You guys have such great advice and information- now that I do a lot of self-employed tutoring, I can use this toward that line of work, too- thank you!

  • Heather
    Posted at 11:27h, 17 September

    I LOVE this blog topic! As an artist stbuilding a career it is easy for people to try and take advantage and promising the world to you about getting exposure etc… I have donated in the past and still do. But I do have specific charities I will donate to because I support them personally like you said. It is nice to have a “cap” of how much you donate if you have a hard time saying no, it gives you a good excuse to stop yourself. I never thought of that. I especially agree with you mentioning that the art needs to be auctioned and handled properly for the artist’s and collectors sake to keep value. If it is a reputable charity I would assume they would be able to provide that on paper just like promising media outlets and such. And it is better to get a cut, everyone loves that! You help artist’s on things most people don’t even give a second thought to. Just because it is a charity doesn’t mean you don’t your research, there are still many ways to be taken advantage of or represented improperly and sometimes not on purpose. This gives me a lot to think about! Thank you.

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