2 Guidelines for Requesting a Donation

You’re probably accustomed to people asking you to donate your art to this or that cause, but have you ever been on the other side? Have you ever been the one making the request for a donation?

There will come a time in your art career when you must ask for donations. Not just money, but also gifts of services or products.

Artists often find themselves seeking the following types of donations:

  • Food or beverages for an art opening
  • A/V equipment so you can run video in an exhibition space
  • Graphic design work
  • Talents of another artist in a collaborative project

please give

I encourage you to ask for such donations because you don’t get what you don’t ask for and asking builds your marketing muscle.

Just remember these two guidelines when you’re requesting donations.

1. Your purpose should be very clear.

Whether you make your request in an email, a letter, on the phone, or on a crowdfunding site, be prepared to address the following quickly and succinctly:

This is what I’m asking for, and this is why I’m asking you for it.

You can’t approach potential donors with the attitude that you’ll take whatever you can get. You must articulate a scenario of events that they can see themselves buying into.

Unclear appeals for donations are ineffective. If potential patrons have no idea what you’re asking for or if it’s too difficult for them to respond, the answer is almost guaranteed to be No.

2. The benefits to the donor must be equally clear.

The biggest question you must answer in your donation request is: 
What is the benefit to the donor?

CAA sponsors

The College Art Association offers very clear benefits to its various sponsorship levels.

In a guest post on the Art Biz Blog last week, Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson described how she raised money to enter and attend Michigan’s ArtPrize by pre-selling prints of sections of her work that would be on view.

This is an unambiguous transaction: “You give me this, and I’ll give you that.”

You must articulate what the donor is getting in return for the donation. It might be signage at an event, an ad on your blog, a private party, a piece of your art, or any combination of things.

As you work on your benefits, remember how you feel when someone asks you to donate your art and promises only “exposure” in return. Exposure isn’t bad, but it has to be the right kind of exposure to the right audience.

Why would someone want to do this for you? What do you have that you can give in return?

Make it a no-brainer for potential patrons to say Yes.

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10 comments to 2 Guidelines for Requesting a Donation

  • Peggy

    Absolutely great blog article!

  • In raising money for a documentary film on the life and music of Frederic Chopin, we found that people considering supporting this project wanted VERY specific information not only on what they personally would receive in return, but also, what groups would benefit, how this film would be used educationally, etc. So the clearer and more specific you can be, and the clearer it is that your project will benefit others, the more supportive people and organizations will be.

    • Absolutely, Wendell! Did you work under the umbrella of a nonprofit?

      • We tried hard to find a nonprofit that would work with us, but we were not successful. One was willing, but wanted to end up owning a portion of the rights to the film. This was something we were not willing to do. We ended up raising most of the funds through a successful kickstarter campaign, raising the rest locally through special events like dinners, fundraising parties, and just plain asking!

  • I never really thought about asking for a donation, I have always been on the “giving” end. This is a great post I’m going to think about for my upcoming show. Thanks for this post :)

  • I also think it is very important to be careful in how you describe what you are asking for. If your supporters are getting something tangible in return, like a T shirt, a print, a painting, a signed copy of the film, etc, avoid the word “donation.” Donation implies a hand-out. If they are getting a DVD or a print, it might be a “pre-order.” Ask for “support,” not a “donation.” You are looking not for charity, but for support from people who want to be involved in a creative project, and who will receive something in return. Of course if you are looking for outright gifts, the word “donation” might be appropriate.

  • Thank you, that’s a very interesting article and very appropriate for me to read as I’ve just started advertising the fact that I’m looking for a sponsor for my art show at Art Basel this year.

    In fact today I withdrew my ‘list of perks’ from my website but reading you is making me think about it some more. I just figured that the businesses and individuals I’ve approached are so well established and so big they’d probably have their own ideas about what they want and I’m flexible (but no push-over).

    Finally yes on the being-fed-up with people asking for free art. ‘Exposure’ definitely does not pay bills!

    I’m going to read your other articles now, particularly about raising money for a show in another country… Great!