You won’t give your time or art for free? But, it’s for charity…

Artist Life | Blog | Finances
15 August 2023
by BSAA Team

Susan cracked the code for supporting good deeds as well as prioritizing your own well-being.

It’s like a broken record in the art world. How many times have we heard this line? It’s enough to make your eyes roll faster than a roulette wheel. 

Artists and dealers constantly find themselves being asked to donate their precious creations or their valuable time for various charitable causes. Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m all for supporting good deeds. But here’s the thing: you can’t jeopardize yourself in the process.

Let me take you back a couple of years to a memorable encounter with a well-meaning lady from a respectable organization. She paid me a visit and spent a whole hour gushing about this grand charitable exhibition her association was planning. It sounded exciting, no doubt, but there was a catch. 

See, none of the folks involved in organizing the event had ever staged an art show before. They were completely clueless, and they needed my expertise to make it happen. It was clear that a tremendous amount of work would be required to turn their ambitious ideas into reality. 

So, at the end of our meeting, I agreed that I would help and promised to send her an estimate of how much time it would take and how much it would cost.

“And then she said it, with a bewildered expression on her face, “But, it’s for charity…”

But here’s the deal—I followed through on my promise and sent her an email with my quotation. The project management alone would require 16 hours of my time per week for the six weeks leading up to the show. That’s a significant commitment, far too much to give away for free. My quote reflected that. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t proceed with my involvement.

Now, you might be wondering if I’m a terrible person for not offering my services free of charge. But let me tell you something. In situations like this, there’s a golden rule that applies: you must help yourself before you can help others. Think of those airplane emergency instructions—put your oxygen mask on first before assisting a child. Otherwise, you both end up in trouble.

I often hear from artists and dealers who are frustrated with being constantly asked to “give away” their work and time. So, what’s the solution? Simple. 

Don’t do it unless it aligns with your values, you believe in the cause, and it won’t be detrimental to your own well-being.

Now, I’m about to let you in on a little secret that many superstar artists know. When they appear to “give” to charity, they are often being “commissioned.” 

Yes, you heard me right. These big shots actually get paid for their contributions. As part of the deal, they agree to be present at the event, using their star power to fetch higher prices for their pieces. And you know who benefits from all the profit? The charity, of course.

For early-stage and emerging artists who might not receive such commissions, there’s still a solution. They can set a starting bid amount, and anything above that goes straight to the charity. 

A smart art dealer could include a small percentage in the starting bid to cover their own time and effort. Unless, of course, their donation is primarily in the form of administrative work, in which case they reap the rewards of ample publicity and connections with successful bidders.

If the dealers are also asked to take on the daunting task of project management, they can offer a “project incentive” discount to meet the budget. That way, they’re making their own contribution to the cause, and they’ll be thrilled to lend a helping hand. Any well-organized charity event should have a proper budget in place, and it’s not exactly rocket science to find funds to cover these expenses.

Here’s the bottom line: it’s crucial to value your own time and partner with organizations that share the same perspective. By doing so, nobody cuts corners, nobody feels resentful, and everyone involved can reap the benefits of a successful collaboration. It’s a win-win situation where your contribution is respected and appreciated, and the charitable cause receives the support it deserves. 

So, the next time someone approaches you with the “but it’s for charity” argument, remember to prioritize your own well-being and ensure that any involvement aligns with your values and goals.

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