I’ve picked up some great ideas over the last year while working with a small group of artists in my local area, which is Asheville, NC. We’ve started to work in collaboration with a few local nonprofits, sharing our artwork with their supportive followers, and in doing so have met new patrons and enthusiasts for our art. I’d like to share a few ideas that I hope will inspire you to do the same.
1. They tend to be pursuing great causes that you can contribute to using your creative gifts.
2. They cultivate loyal, supportive and generous followings, people who are willing to spend money to support the good cause.
3. By aligning yourself with them as a supporter of the cause, you can generate great value for your name and artwork within the nonprofit’s following and local community.
So how do you use your creative gifts to contribute to the nonprofit’s cause, while also profiting for your time and effort? There are many possibilities. What you must do is find an active nonprofit with a healthy following, one whose mission excites you and fulfills your values. Then brainstorm a project which relates to their mission and presents a means for you to profit while providing value to their followers.
It could be a dance show, a music performance, a poetry reading, an art exhibit… Nonprofits love to host events such as these.
I am an avid environmentalist, but I’d rather be painting than protesting or cleaning rivers. We have a well-known nonprofit group in our area whose mission is to sustain the large local river that runs through our city, and so they proved an ideal candidate to work with. We assembled a small group of artists and proposed doing a private exhibit of paintings of the local river. The event had a 50-65.00 ticket price, all of the proceeds benefiting the nonprofit, and art sales were encouraged with a 60/40 split, 40% benefiting the nonprofit and 60% going to the artists. We spent spring and summer 2014 making the paintings, and opened the exhibit in October, 2014.
The venue with our artwork before showtime.
The nonprofit was able to obtain donations for food, wine and beer. Music was donated. The venue was also donated for the event! Could the artists have done this for our own group exhibit without the established, well-reputed nonprofit? No way!!
A few times throughout the evening the nonprofit director addressed the people in attendance, thanking them for their generosity toward the cause and encouraging them to offer further support by purchasing a painting.
The result? We grossed over $30,000 in sales. I sold artwork, met potential future patrons, and got a radio interview! A wealthy, anonymous supporter of the organization privately went around and bought one piece from every artist, expressing gratitude for their time and generosity. In addition, plans are in place to repeat the event annually. In addition, the artists received publicity with their names attached to a renowned local organization.
It takes a good amount of planning to pull off a large group exhibit, but the results can be immensely beneficial. It is important to remember that you must pick an organization that has a followers with the means to support the project that you propose. And the desire to do so. The more you frame the event about benefiting the organization, with you assisting in that goal, the more willing the followers will be to aid you in that, and in turn, you will receive a share of the revenue.
On a smaller scale, from what I have observed, many artists frequently receive requests from nonprofits to donate a piece of artwork that their cause can auction off for revenue. As a result, artists either don’t sell for their usual prices, thereby undercutting their own existing pricing, or only the nonprofit makes money and the artist gives their time and effort without compensation.
I have two thoughts about reframing this problem, and welcome your additional questions and ideas.
– Give away a studio event as an auction item, rather than a piece of art. Our studio did this recently with a nonprofit auction, teaming up with a local wine shop. The “item” donated for their auction was a two hour private art talk and wine tasting in the studio for a maximum of four people. We do the wine tasting and then have a discussion of our art-creating process, tell stories about the landscape scenes we paint, show them how we hand-prepare painting surfaces in the studio, talk about the quality, locally ground paints we have on our palette. Anything that can be both educational and entertaining.
There are a ton of benefits to doing this:
– It costs the artists nothing in terms of giving away inventory.
– It brings interested people, potential new clients, into your studio as a captive audience.
– It allows you to give a deeper perspective behind your artwork to those potential clients through storytelling and sharing your enthusiasm for what you do, thus greatly increasing the chances that they’ll want to become more involved and purchase artwork, join your newsletter, follow your blog, etc.
– It gives you a chance to practice and improve at interacting with folks and sharing your story, and seeing what art / story / process people are most responsive to.
How to Hold A Fundraiser:
1. Write “private studio visit with (your name/business)” or something alluring that conveys exclusivity and as the auction item title.
2. Be very clear in the description as to what is being bid on. “A two-hour, private studio visit and wine tasting. The artist will walk you through their creation process from conception to the final painting, sharing stories about creating their favorite paintings.” (You could also offer tea, coffee, juice, beer, whatever, but I like to provide some sort of refreshment.)
3. At the nonprofit’s auction, if it is a silent auction, show up with a laptop/tablet that has a slideshow with images of your artwork, work-in-progress images, your studio, you painting outdoors, anything that can grab interest. In the event I did, I periodically came by the auction table if I saw someone near the display item and gave them a brief summary of the event.
4. Schedule a time to do the event with the winner. It can be soon after the auction or as was in our case, a few months later.
The other idea I have is that in some cases, it is worth donating a piece of art or a print. If the nonprofit is a well-known organization with a strong following that links into the sort of audience you wish to connect with, it can pay future dividends to donate artwork to them. My colleague John Mac Kah donated a painting to such a local nonprofit association of lawyers, and thereafter made several thousands of dollars of sales to clients who saw his painting at the event and wanted to talk about commissions or were interested in other originals / prints.The key is to be visible at such an event and to make it easy for interested people to connect with you.
We are also now talking to that group about doing an exhibit fundraiser with them as I have outlined above, so donating a tangible piece of art can be a good way to establish rapport with a nonprofit that you wish to work more with in the future.
I welcome your feedback about this interesting and complex topic! There are many ways that we can reframe practices that take advantage of artists and their work to those which are beneficial for everyone involved, allowing us all to lead abundant lives!
What are your ideas about collaborating with nonprofits successfully?
Jason Rafferty is a 23-year-old full time fine artist based in Asheville, NC. His singular passion is to lead a life of abundance as an artist, and help others to do so with what they love. For more information, visit Jason Rafferty at www.jasonrafferty.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.