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Old 11-24-2008, 10:40 AM   #1
Amanda Grosjean Amanda Grosjean is offline
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When charity auctions go wrong




Hello everyone,

Over the weekend I did another charity auction, the third in 2 months. It was a high end auction with a wine tasting and finger foods (tuxes and fur coats abound). I donated a gift certificate for a portrait in a head and shoulder format, subject of the winners choice. I brought a really nice painting example, attached a sign explaining it was for display only, and a little card holder so anyone who passed by could get a business card. I was part of the live auction and even though I had hoped (and suggested) that I could stand next to the painting and sell the idea, answering questions as the artist. I had a really great response at the last (silent) auction doing this even though it was not bid on in the end. But alas, I was placed on the back of the stage, no one able to even grab a card. I became concerned when all of the tables but one were reserved for businesses that obviously paid for their workers as a group. Then I became more concerned when I noticed that almost nothing was being bid from the silent auction and tons of items were being carted away to the back, including artwork. I thought, well, even if no one bids, I guess it was free advertising. The item was worth $1,800 and I had set minimum bid at $1,000. I was pretty clear with this as I spoke with the women who ran the auction and the auctioneer (it was on the sheet she read the item from as well). They had way too many items in the live auction and they halted the wine during that time. I don't thing that anyone really understood what they were getting. So she starts the bidding at $1,000 and no one bites so she goes to 500 and then 200..ended at $400. Needless to say I wasn't very happy. I thought minimum bid was self explanatory. Was I wrong?

Of course I have an obligation to do this portrait, it is for charity and it isn't the bidder's fault. But when the painting is valued at $1,800 and it goes for $400, the service is greatly devalued. A prospective client contacting me in the future based on this event may not understand why the asking price is $1,800 when the winning bidder of this auction received the same item for the price of $400. So I now have to have a contract with the auctions I donate to. I was wondering if anyone else had to do this (I'd be happy to hear other stories) and had an example contract they would like to post.

In your opinion is a live or silent auction better? Are the ones that are high ticketed better (remembering that many of the tables were bought for workers that were obviously there for free food and alcohol)? Or is it better to be at the ones with the friendly church crowd at 40-50 dollars a plate? Also, everyone seems to be ultra-conservative with their buying, (we are offering a luxury item) is it affecting any of your businesses? If you have a waiting list are people canceling?

Thanks for sticking with the long story,

Amanda
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Old 11-24-2008, 10:49 AM   #2
Amanda Grosjean Amanda Grosjean is offline
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This is a sample contract that I came up with. I am certainly not a lawyer so I would be happy to hear any suggestions on changes or any additions that I have overlooked.

Charity Auction Contract

This contract signals an agreement between the Artist, _________________, and the Charity Organization, _____________________________________________.

The Artist has agreed to donate a gift certificate for a painting of the subject of the winning bidders choice in a "Head and Shoulders" format for the ___________________________ Charity auction on _________(date)________ . The value of this item is _______. The minimum bid for this item cannot and should not fall below _________. If the minimum bid should not reach the said price, the above stated donated item shall be returned to the Artist. If the item is sold for below the minimum bid, the Artist is under no obligation to redeem the gift certificate.

I have read the above statement and agree to it
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Old 11-24-2008, 11:11 AM   #3
Carol Norton Carol Norton is offline
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Great Idea!!!

Thanks for the very helpful contract, Amanda. This certainly would clarify most/all issues that could be addressed in events like these. Whether people read contracts or not, is another issue, but at least the artist has clearly spelled out what is expected and that certainly should solve most problems.
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Old 11-24-2008, 12:46 PM   #4
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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I've done a lot of charity auctions and here's what I've found:

The best ones are the expensive ones (definitely not the $50 church dinners,)

The best ones also have lots of artists and other donors competing to get in, and they turn plenty of donors away.

Being in the live auction is better than the silent auction.

Setting a solid minimum bid is a good idea and you're right that it unfortunately devalues your reputation if the item sells for much less than that. Did lots of items go for less than the price at which the auctioneer opened the bidding? These are hard times and people understand that.

Once the auction gets underway a lot of promises go by the wayside: whether you'll get in the live or silent auction, what table you'll be at, minimum bids, etc.

Even with all of that certain very high end auctions are still worth it for the advertising.

If I were you I would talk to the auction organizers/auctioneer about what happened and see if you can come up with a workable plan for next year. I'm not sure a written contract would make much difference though. If they broke it and you made a fuss, you certainly wouldn't be allowed to donate the next year. If this is the best auction in town you might not want to burn that bridge.

With auctions I think it's pretty much pick the best ones and then take your chances.
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Old 11-24-2008, 01:29 PM   #5
Amanda Grosjean Amanda Grosjean is offline
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Michelle,

Yes, I think most of the items went below the minimum bid during the live auction portion but I was bothered by the fact that it was SO far off from the original value. I emailed the woman in charge to explain that I was a bit upset that the minimum bid had been disregarded and explained that I was happy to help the organization but I viewed this as advertising opportunity in exchange and devaluing my service doesn't help. You are absolutely right, you can not burn bridges which is why I was careful with my wording. However, whether I decide to work with them again will depend on their response. I hadn't considered what I would do if the contract wasn't followed (thus burning a bridge if they don't comply and I refuse the portrait). But that certainly is a fine line as to when you are "flexible" and when you are a "doormat". Fortunately there do seem to be quite a few auctions in my area but I am not sure how many are considered "high end" yet since I haven't been at this for a full year. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Michelle. It is good information to hear that even experienced portrait artists still confront these issues.



Amanda
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Old 11-24-2008, 01:42 PM   #6
Debra Jones Debra Jones is offline
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The auctioneer is a big part of it. I have been at auctions where they would not feed people until the bids came in. A good auctioneer will work the room and name names and TELL people to bid.
I DON'T believe you are obliged to do it, the auctioneer should have known to say, NO SALE if the bid did not come in.

One of my first requirement of doing anything for charity is to PLUG MY EARS and never look at the bids. I do only certificates for small paintings and some never come back... some have bidding wars! It all is dependent on the mood of the group and MY salesmanship.

As a participant in the auction part, I am there to pass out information and recruit. The two live auctions I did participate in BOTH had me there as a participant, either photographing (these were pet charities) the potential clients and/or working on a different piece in progress. That let them KNOW what I would do and how it would be done. Because one was a pet rescue with a lot of active patrons and the other was a specialty dog group the auction was run by a very vocal well known MEMBER of the charity. I was actually amazed that the pricing went so high!

BUT... I would do the piece for whatever I got if I believed in the charity. IF you have a minimum bid, the charity is the one responsible for getting you that price. PERHAPS you could have the charity call the winner and explain that their error was not your problem and offer to do a smaller piece or perhaps a charcoal for the price.
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Old 11-24-2008, 02:29 PM   #7
Patricia Joyce Patricia Joyce is offline
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I too, participate in auctions, a handful a year, and always get some business from it. This week I have been searching for some new, more upscale auctions and don't know where to begin. Can anyone suggest how to find the high end auctions in the Cleveland or Ohio region?

Thanks.
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Old 11-24-2008, 02:52 PM   #8
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Contact the most expensive private schools in your area and ask if they have an auction.
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Old 11-24-2008, 03:16 PM   #9
Amanda Grosjean Amanda Grosjean is offline
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Quote:
One of my first requirement of doing anything for charity is to PLUG MY EARS and never look at the bids....Debra
I had to laugh at that because I don't know where I "go" but something makes me tune out as people are bidding and I end up turning to my husband and asking, "what happened, what was the final bid?"
I also have not been contacted by the winner from the first auction I did. Thank you for your thoughts, Debra. And you certainly do have to be a salesman and very social for this job, don't you?
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Old 11-24-2008, 03:28 PM   #10
Amanda Grosjean Amanda Grosjean is offline
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Michelle,

I got the impression from reading some earlier threads that you have quite a few commissions that are out of town. If this is correct, what percentage would you say this is (out of curiosity)? Have you called about private school auctions (as you suggested to Patricia) in other towns or did you happened to get one commission and you got more from word of mouth in that area? I am assuming that you are not compensated for that drive to the auction or the subsequent portrait commission since it is a donation. Isn't this a risk considering that from some of the other posts on this thread, auctions aren't a sure thing or a safe bet?
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