07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Friday, June 24, 2016

Authors and Charities—Is It Win-Win?

By Linda Lovely

Let me begin by saying I admire the many authors who generously donate time and potential profits to raise funds and awareness for their favorite charities. They do so by arranging for charities to sell their books and pocket the profits, by forgoing speaking fees to headline charity lunches and dinners, by spending countless hours organizing charity auctions.

In most cases, the partnership offers a win-win for charities and authors. The charities pocket money they might not otherwise receive, get free publicity, and have an opportunity to expand their donor base. Authors gain name recognition and, hopefully, fans, who will become dedicated readers of current and future books.

Earlier this month fellow RTG blogger, Marcia King-Gamble, suggested folks consider charitable efficiency when making donation decisions. She noted, for example, that the Red Cross spends 92.1% of its income on programs that benefit the community with administrative expenses representing less than 5% of total overhead.

That prompted me to consider at what point author-charity partnerships might become more advantageous to authors than charities. Let’s look at a hypothetical charitable event where an author will sell books. The nonprofit provides lots of free promotion in exchange for the author donating a “portion” of the profits.
The Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum
sells NO WAKE ZONE and keeps all profits--.
about $8 per book. We had a signing &
books are sold in the museum gift shop.

In this instance, shouldn’t the people who are urged to buy books to support the charity know the split? If the book retails for $16, how many dollars will the charity pocket versus the author? Let’s say the actual book costs $8, leaving $8 profit. If the author donates only a quarter of the profits, the charity is asking donors to spend $16 (on something they might not otherwise want or buy) in order to reap $2. This isn’t a terribly efficient way to raise money. However, it’s definitely a win for the author who gets all the benefits—promotion, sales, income.

As an author, I can argue this is no different than all the other businesses that donate a “portion” of profits on specific products to charities. When I buy from one online retailer, I’m told the charity I identified as my recipient will get a piece of the action. While I’m sure that “piece” is very, very small, I signed up because I’d make the purchase anyway, and my favorite charity might as well benefit.

So, fellow authors and nonprofit organizers, I’d love to hear what you think. If you’re involved in such an event, should you let your audience know what the various parties will gain?

So far, I’ve been involved as an author with two fundraising initiatives. In one case, I spoke at a luncheon. I received nothing for speaking and the nonprofit made its money from its sale of luncheon tickets. I benefited from the publicity and from a post-luncheon book-signing handled by a local bookstore. However, book purchases were entirely voluntary for attendees.

In the second instance, I provided signed paperback copies of one of my mysteries at cost to a nonprofit that’s near and dear to me. The nonprofit didn’t front a penny. It pocketed ALL profits as it made sales, and it reimbursed me for actual book costs after the fact.

So let’s hear your opinions. What model should authors and charities adopt for fundraising? Should charitable donations per sale of a book or the percentage of charitable proceeds from a luncheon or dinner be made public?


Tina said...

I think the two models you describe are very efficient and fair. I have participated in one very special event where I donated all the profits to a specific charity (in the name of a beloved classmate). I have donated books to fundraisers of various types, sometimes for reimbursement, sometimes not. And I always make donations of books and money to libraries that host me, especially libraries in under-served areas (my publisher also donates books to libraries). So far, all these endeavors have been win-win finance-wise (except the very special event, but then I knew it wouldn't bring me any profit when I went in because in that very special case, profit wasn't the goal).

Ashantay said...

Just this morning I shared a call for submissions on my FB page. The winter holiday anthology has pledged all profits to a children's charity in the British Isles. The authors would gain name recognition and the opportunity to give back to families in need. I also recently read "Dogtripping" by mystery writer David Rosenfelt, an avid dog rescuer. He often gives talks and offers character names for auction by dog rescue groups, all in exchange for book sales. Not sure how much he keeps, but he did comment that the groups made quite a bit of money that way, so I'm assuming he has pet (excuse the pun) shelter favorites that he contributes a set number of books to - probably at cost. I think if you follow your heart but do your research, you can't go wrong.

Linda Lovely said...

Tina and Ashantay, thanks for commenting. Agree with both of you. If I'm going to do something for charity, the most I would want to get out of it is to cover my costs. However, like Tina, I always give books to libraries that host me for events (and even some underserved libraries that don't).

Robin Weaver, Author said...

Interesting blog (as always), Linda.

Judith Ashley said...

I do think if you are promoting the sale of books by saying a percentage of the proceeds are going to a charity, the percentage should be disclosed or a link to where those details are provided.

The challenge is that for Indie Published authors, not everyone understands how much the book cost the author to begin with.

Bottom line, for me, it is critical to understand what I want to gain --- financial support of a charity, name recognition. For the latter, I'd go with signed copies the charity could sell, reimbursing me for the cost of the book. Anyone who purchases that book could become a fan and buy future books.

Will have to talk to my neighborhood library. I don't think they can accept donated books but it is something to check out.

Anonymous said...

For me, when I donate a book to charity I donate the whole thing without any expectation of cost reimbursement. It's cleaner for me both in terms of how I feel and in terms of my taxes. I have donated books to schools and libraries that will actually take them. Small libraries often do take them and put them in circulation. Large libraries will only take them to put in the book sale they do to raise funds. It is never put in circulation.

My local RWA chapter used to do an annual event for literacy to which I've donated books, gift baskets and the like. This always seems a natural link for authors.

The few others I know who do a lot to raise money for a charity spend hours and hours of time and tend to line up many other authors to participate. I'm thinking of Brenda Novak's annual auction for Diabetes Research. She has raised more than $2 million dollars in the past 10 years.

I'm a huge believer that giving returns ten fold. It doesn't always return in the form of money, fame, or a better career. But it does return with experiences that make my heart whole and fill my soul.