When donating pays

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Every young writer and photographer often hears the same message. Whatever you do, don’t give your work away. Never work for free.
While this is true, like every good rule, there’s always an exception. Sometimes making a donation of your time and talent is a two-way transaction garnering you recognition and helping you develop a market for your work.
Gathering recognition can take time and perspiration, but a bit of fame can shorten the way.
Good causes require funding, which requires boots on the ground, ending at the doors of photographers, writers and other artists. So donate when someone calls. An example of your work in a live or silent auction gets your name out there. A byline or attribution line may be thin gruel for a fine piece of work, but it’s up to you to build on it. Without numerous early donations of my best work, the phone might never have rang for later paid commissions.
A painting I donated to a 1991 Coastal Conservation Association fundraiser brought a call from a Texas Parks & Wildlife manager. Could I come up with a painting for the 1993 Wildlife Expo — fast? “Fly Texas!” resulted. As my compensation, I received 200 prints and all sold out in three years. Plus, that print brought a request from the Operation Game Thief folks.
It’s amazing how your name becomes familiar the more it appears on various donor lists. Requests for Caldwell art and many commissions have resulted from those early donations.
Donating work was sometimes painful, but I created a following for my art. People were learning my name and I was developing a reputation and a profitable market. I was even named Texas State Artist of the year in 2004.
The goal in donating your professional work is of course to aid good causes, but also to develop your brand and product value. A few of my early paintings were full donations, but I banked on the exposure, an investment
that paid off in later years.
After “Fly Texas,” I painted — and donated — “Ancient Traditions,” then “Traditions Continued,” for Texas Parks & Wildlife. Then Ducks Unlimited came along and I created work for its fundraisers.
I no longer completely donate work to organizations and fundraisers, but the groups I aid still benefit — sometimes more so than when I was starting out — because of the following and reputation I’ve cultivated increased the value of my work at auctions.
When I look back at my career, many of my best friends and patrons resulted from donations to good causes. Several of the art prints I still sell stemmed from partnerships with the Coastal Conservation Association, Ducks
Unlimited, Texas Parks & Wildlife and Operation Game Thief.
You, whether a writer, videographer or photographer, can do the same. Get acquainted with your state parks and wildlife department, the game warden association, and the top conservation groups in your state.
Visit in person. Create your best work. Donate it. Then watch your reputation — and your bank account — grow. ♦
–Sam Caldwell is an outdoor artist, writer, editor and photographer. Caldwell, an OWAA board member, says his main goal with OWAA is to add 15 artists to the membership in 2015. His studio/gallery/home is near Houston, Texas. See his work at www.samcaldwell.com.

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