Art Chooses You: Linking Yourself and Your Art to Charity

Savvy Marketing Advice by Jen Cushman

Before I headed off on my annual pilgrimage to the Craft and Hobby Association Trade show last week, my sister gave me a pair of Tom’s Shoes from the company’s Artist series. She knows the CHA show is huge and that I’m on my feet for days on end, so she decided I need a comfy pair of shoes. It was more than a thoughtful gift. Tom’s mission is to give a pair of new shoes to a child in need, one for one.

As I was driving to California for the show—which by the way was themed “The Power of Community; Build Locally, Drive Socially,”—my sister’s gift led me to thinking about how many companies are incorporating charitable giving into their mission statements and marketing plans. Charitable donations are nothing new, as the US Government allows for annual corporate tax write-offs that can help improve a corporation’s bottom line while doing good deeds.

However, it seems to me the concept of buying products that support charitable causes is more pronounced than ever before, even to the point of becoming ingrained in our psyches. For example, I was recently standing in line at the grocery store and wanted some mints for my purse. I was drawn to the tube that promised to feed hungry children over my stand by Altoids®, which I always buy so I can repurpose the tin into artwork. Sure the plastic tube was fine and will still get re-purposed, but I gravitated to buying mints that made a difference without even stopping to analyze it.

Americans love donating to charitable causes. According to the Giving USA Foundation’s 2011 report, charitable giving rose to $290.89 billion, which is 3.8% greater than 2010. Pretty cool considering we’ve been in a recession. The majority of those funds, $211.77 billion comes from individuals.

What all this leads me to is think about how we, as artists, are often asked to donate artwork to charity. At least one large mixed-media art retreat that I know of writes it into their teaching contracts that instructors must donate a piece of work for silent auction to benefit the organizer’s charity of choice. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but I do find it interesting that being charitable with one’s creative work is not a choice but a mandate for instructors. Fortunately, the organizer is pretty laid back about this part of the contract, so donating truly is a charitable act.

Because of CHA and its affiliation with some really wonderful and deserving charities this year, I was asked to donate three pieces of my work, 2 necklaces and one mixed-media collage. I was so thrilled with the way the charities responded that I gave away a large mixed-media canvas that was a sample for our booth at the end of the show. I really enjoyed giving, and received more than my fair share in publicity and marketing for our artistic ideas and products. I never intended to give to get, but that’s what came out of it.

It was ultimately this experience that inspired my topic this month. Because artists are often inundated with requests to donate art work, and because the majority of artists I know are very socially aware and responsive human beings, it’s my opinion that we need to look at our creative contributions as part of our overall business plan. After interviewing some of the other charities, I came up with a short list of tips that might be helpful.

  1. Research the charity. Ensure you agree with its mission statement and how its spends its contributions.
  2. Donate work you like and feel good about, not your cast offs. Just like us, they are trying to make money off our talent. There is nothing worse for you, or the charity, than to have something in a silent auction or raffle that no one wants. Donating your art to charity is not like donating your old shirts to Goodwill. It is a reflection of you and others see it.
  3. When picking pieces to donate, think about the event and its participants. Some of your best future collectors may find you and fall in love with your work because of that fundraising event. If possible, tailor your donation to the event’s theme or cause.
  4. Ask the charity organizer if they have a table or place set aside for your brochures and business cards. Be sure your website, blog and contact information is readily available.
  5. Ask the charity if they are going to be announcing the artists or how they plan to spotlight the art.
  6. Think about participating. Parties are great networking events and you have a built-in audience already interested in your work. Bring business cards.
  7. Get a receipt and be sure to include it in your taxes.

Linking your art to charity is not only a heart worthy endeavor, but a savvy marketing strategy if done well.


Artist bio: Jen Cushman is a natural storyteller who found mixed media art a decade ago and never looked back. She is drawn to the imperfect, the funky, the quirky, the artsy and the authentic: be it people or objects or art. She writes a business advice column for artists at and also for Belle Armoire Jewelry. She’s also the Director of Education and Marketing for Susan Lenart Kazmer ICE Resin®. To learn more, visit her website or follow her blog at


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