I get asked multiple times a year to donate something I made to an auction: It's such an important charity, it's good for your exposure, it will help raise money! And when I say multiple, I mean at least once per month. When I was younger, I donated willingly and often to many good causes. I didn't have money to donate so I figured donating work was the next best thing. Right?
I have now realized that answer is unequivocally wrong. While art lovers love to snap up cheap works of art at silent and live auctions, all they are doing is underpricing the work. Who will buy your sculptures for $250 if they purchased one already for $75? In this economy, items rarely go above list price at auctions. And as an artist, you can't write off the worth of the piece, you can only write off the value of the materials.
So this polar bear sculpture that took me many hours to make and valued over $250 could only be written off for about $5, the cost of the wool and stiffener. I know why the IRS does this. If I could say this sculpture was worth $1000 and then proceed to write it off, I would donate enough work to cover our yearly taxes!
But then again, what about exposure? The vague promise of recognition and networking? I have never, ever, had a sale come after someone saw or purchased one of my items at an auction. Maybe someone was influenced and never told me? I'll never know for sure, but usually people are proud and happy to mention things like this.
I think it is far better to just volunteer for a charity you like. That way you meet new people, maybe network a little, and save your best work for the galleries!
Finally, what if it is a good cause? I now allow myself to donate one or two items a year, tops. I was asked to donate an item to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium for their fundraiser this month and as I used to volunteer and work there, I decided I would make this polar bear sculpture since I have positive feelings for the organization. I was sad to see it go; I had a lot of fun making this sculpture but I know it will probably end up with someone who cares about the zoo as much as I do.
Just don't ask me to donate anything else for the next 6 months!