Helpful Hints for Successful Fundraisers Using Fine Art

I just had a wonderful discussion with a person thinking of having an auction of art for a fundraiser. I asked if the person holding the art and in charge of the actual auction would be able to tell the audience facts about the art and the artist of each piece for auction. I got a total blank stare!… What? Why would that be important? Everyone would see it for themselves and decide if they wanted to bid on it, won’t they??? …Guess what; didn’t you just complain that folks were not ready to bid above $50.00 for a piece?? Why would they if they didn’t know what they were looking at? After all, you can get big pieces of art at Wal-Mart for $30.00 or less!

Black art is Narrative art! There is, most of the times, a story behind the art and it needs to be told as well as a bit about the artist and where the works have been shown, if he/ she is collected already, established or novice. There is a lot more to having art for fundraising for it to be successful. You have to know your audience too, if it’s students, alumni, collectors, or whatever and accommodate the pricing of the art to fit. Never expect to have a piece bid for $1200.00 and you have students or basic non collectors who know very little about art or the cost of a frame in the audience! You have to build the appreciation within your audience. To have a successful auction fundraiser, it takes work and educating the audience as to what they are seeing and how to appreciate it. How many times have you heard someone whisper, “My baby sister can do that!” They wouldn’t say that if the dynamics of abstraction were explained to the audience and the auctioneer would briefly teach the appreciation of the work that is in front of them and what makes it worth the money. It’s not something for a last minute knee jerk idea to be thrown together. I also asked, “What’s your budget for purchasing wholesale for the auction?” Another blank stare! There you go!

I have only attended three Black Art auctions to raise money that were very successful and here are some of the things I noticed that worked very well. First and foremost, it takes people who are willing to put in the time and preparation to be successful.

For Successful Fundraisers using art; I hope this helps some just starting out.


  1. Plan for the auction to be the main draw for the event and dedicate the entire time to this cause. Live or recorded music at the beginning of the event at intermission or the end of the event; a speech about the cause for the fundraising, introductions of members of the organization plus introduction of the artists that are present and a brief background of the art selected for the auction.
  2. Have an established budget to buy art from selected artists wholesale. One suggestion is to have each individual in the group holding the event to donate a certain set amount like $200.00 or more depending on the affluence of the group. After all, isn’t it for a good cause??? The organization can foot the bill for event space and other costs.
  3. Decide if you want original art or allow framed prints and be prepared to explain the difference to your audience. Also a little lesson on what it takes for framing and provide a list of resources for framing.
  4. Contact artist willing to participate and arrange to choose and purchase selected pieces that are framed or canvas museum wrap and ready to hang from them for the auction. If you can also arrange for them to be at the auction to briefly talk about their work it would be ideal. (this is free) Otherwise, get the information from them for the auctioneer to learn.
    1. A brief Bio and CV
    2. Description of their style, and media.
    3. Title of each piece, media, style, retail price.
    4. Original, print, limited Edition and number
    5. Brief narrative of each piece.
    6. Each work is tagged on back with all information.


  1. Know your audience and do preliminary marketing to let folks know about your cause and to raise an awareness of the art that will be available for bids including the price range. Show the work on emails and flyers and all marketing promotions used. Themes are great…”Small Affordable Works”, “Art for Education” (or for whatever the funds are being raised).
  2. Get a person that knows about art and its value to conduct the bidding, or a professional auctioneer. A person that can make this event fun and entertaining.
  3. Have the works on display hanging or on easels to see as the audience enters.
  4. Have helpers that know art to monitor and walk through the audience to help raise the excitement in the audience. They can walk the art through the audience while bidding is going on.
  5. Have a signup sheet for bidding, get name, address, email, phone contact and give them a bid number (cute to have them in the design of a church fan and is a souvenir for the event) to wave during the auction. This gives you a great list for the next event.
  6. Starting bids are established and the audience knows ahead of time at what percentage it begins (ie. 50% of retail price).
  7. If no one bids, take it away quickly and move on to the next. Never put the audience on the spot by trying to force a bid. This piece can always be brought out again later. Remember, if no one bids on this particular piece, it goes back to the donor. So donors tend to choose their art carefully for auctions.
  8. Start the bidding with the most affordable pieces to warm up the audience and gradually increase. If done right, by the end of the event the audience is in a frenzy of bidding and having a blast! The result is that all the pieces get a new home and the money raised is at or above expectations for the organization. The fun and excitement becomes a buzz for the next time.
  9. Keep your contact list of artists especially the ones that brought the highest bids for future events.


*Note: Things to think of when choosing the art.


  1. Is it Original? Are you certain you have an original painting or sculpture? An original print would be signed and/or numbered. Reproductions, including posters of art, are usually not handled when Originals are available.
  2. Can the artist be identified? Thoroughly examine the artwork for any signatures, initials, inscriptions or other markings that indicate the name of the artist
  3. What condition is it in? Is there any visible damage? Any areas of visible repair? Is the color strong or faded? Is it dirty or clean?
  4. How was it acquired? Did you obtain it directly from the artist or from a dealer/gallery?
  5. What other details do you know? Dimensions, date, title, medium (the materials it’s made of), historical provenance (chain of ownership), etc. are all facts which, when documented, can help determine the value of an artwork.


Marcella is a visual artist that made a leap of faith in 1995 and took an early retirement from a successful elementary teaching career of 27 years. She and her husband moved from California to the Atlanta area to continue as a full time artist. She has a formal education in the arts, and has been a creative visual artist for over 40 years.

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