Let’s Go For the Win-Win: How to Ask Artists for Donations

This post is my personal PSA. I love working with organizations and particularly causes, but I haven’t been doing it very well or very wisely. There’s potential neither of us are tapping.

Last year alone, I donated original oil paintings to more than ten causes/events/organizations. I’m a micro-business– that is a substantial offering. This is how it typically works: someone from the organization contacts me and asks for the donation. Half the time they offer the all-too-elusive “promotion” or “exposure” in return. The other half of the time they offer nothing.

A few of my recent donations

The half that offers “exposure” typically include me in a list of donors in their event brochure or social media post. They almost never link to my relevant sites or offer any kind of interesting/valuable social media content related to my work. The result of this “exposure”, as you can guess, is nil. The donation is pure donation. It doesn’t help me. And I don’t really help the cause except in the dollar value of the item I’ve donated.

Before I get any further, I know what you might be thinking. I could just say no. You’re right. I could. But this post isn’t about how I don’t want to donate, I most certainly do. It’s about wanting to donate smarter. It’s about wanting both me and the organization to get a bigger bang for our buck. Let’s go for the win win.

Hear me out. This is what it could look like. Here’s the win/win.

  1. You are the Organization/Cause/Event in need of a donation. You contact me after liking/following me on all relevant social media. (Caveat: make sure you seek out my professional sites and not my personal ones. A friend request on my personal FB page does absolutely nothing for anybody). Your pitch starts with a recognition of my own substantial social media presence/other relevant accomplishments. Then you describe your own online or community presence. Now I’m listening. Do you have a big following? I’d love to show them my work. Do you have a small but highly engaged audience? I’d love to start conversations with them.
  2. We work out the details of the donation, part of which is you securing me a charitable donation tax form. In other words, treat me like a “real” business. Art is not my hobby. It is my livelihood.
  3. We discuss the social media posts you will promote on your sites. Ask if I would like to create my own promotional content to send to you (look, I’m willing to do more work!). Always, always, always use links in any posts/promotions. My website, FB page, insta, all of it. Link. You’re getting a free painting.
  4. Once the details of the donation are worked out and leading up to the event, occasionally start sharing some of my social media content on your own pages. Did I post a painting similar to the one I’ve donated to your auction? Share it. It promotes me, sure. It also promotes your event or cause.
  5. Invite people to like and follow me on social media. I get that you’ve got a lot of people donating. But you also need good social media content to promote your cause/event. What better way than to have sporadic posts about each of your contributors?
  6. This is where I come in. Send me posts about the event. I will share them on my own sites. I will include links. I will invite people to “like and follow”. See what’s happening? We are both benefitting.
  7. I post a photo of the item I’m donating and link to you. I also occasionally share relevant event content from your own sites. We’re working together. Some of my followers are becoming interested in the event. Some of yours are becoming interested in my work. We are all happy. My donation is no longer just charity but investment. The donation you receive is no longer just one item, but also new followers and attendees. I can now take the quotation marks off “exposure”.

Honestly, if this win/win scenario happened more often, I would probably be more willing to donate larger, more valuable pieces.

One last word– If you’ve asked me to donate and haven’t done any of this, I don’t think you are in the wrong, bad, or ungrateful. How can you do something you don’t know to do? If you have done these things, and some of you have, thank you. They work.

I absolutely need to do my part to make this new scenario a reality. Instead of begrudgingly donating throughout the year, I need to initiate practices that will make win/win more likely. This post is my first step.

What do you think? If you’ve had any experience from either side, I’d very very much appreciate your feedback/insights in the comments. Am I totally off base? Are these strategies helpful? Is this win/win even doable? I want to hear from you.

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