Image by Daniel Nevins

Have you ever thought about yourself as an artist? If you’re practicing the art of fundraising, then guess what – you are an artist! I never quite thought about it this way until recently as I’ve been working with an incredible personal coach about how to step more into my strengths and voice as a leader. Surprisingly, what we’ve been exploring is who I am as an artist. Not whether I’m going to become a painter, which who knows, maybe I will someday, but about how to I approach my work every day as an artist.

While exploring the artistic aspects of my fundraising approach, I had the privilege of sitting down to dinner with a local Asheville, NC artist, Daniel Nevins.

Soon after we started eating, I asked, “Daniel, what does it mean to you to be an artist?”

Being the Irish artist that he is, Daniel responded with a story which was life-changing for me.

Daniel is a very successful artist, but he’d been struggling with a painting for two months. He just couldn’t make it happen. He would start down one direction, see it wasn’t working, and paint it over. Or he would avoid it. Then he would start down a new direction and see it led nowhere. He was really struggling.

One night he had a dream where his favorite Irish musician came to him and said, “Daniel, I see you have been struggling with this painting, and I have three bits of advice…

  1. Stop bullying the painting.
  2. Ask the painting what it wants to become.
  3. Be kinder to yourself, and in turn you, will be kinder to the painting.

Wow, what an incredible dream. Daniel realized that he had been in a battle with himself and the painting, and it had led him nowhere. He had started coming from a place of fear, force, and felt stuck. Once he shifted his thinking to creating a relationship with his work, with more openness and kindness, the painting flowed out of him (which you can see in the beautiful header image).

That really captured me. I had been in high-stress mode at work trying to wrestle some things into existence, and I felt exhausted. My team was exhausted, too. I went back to our team and shared this story with them, and immediately the heavy, stuck feeling started to lift. We started feeling more space, more creativity, more room to navigate through our challenges. Amusement with ourselves and the work we were doing returned. All from a bit of wisdom from an Irish musician in an artist’s dream.

So, let’s unpack how you might also be experiencing this in your work as a fundraiser.

What are you bullying?

Maybe it’s a donor offer, donor planning, trying to get connected with a donor, getting others to get on board, or maybe you are bullying yourself. The energy here is fear, force, wrangling, and the feeling that it’s up to you to make something happen now! That energy creates resistance, and it’s exhausting.

What does it want to become?

I know, weird, right? Asking a donor plan or proposal what it wants to become. But there is something about getting a bit of distance from something. Like when you can see clearly what your friend needs to do in a situation, but not when it’s your own struggle. It’s harder to have clarity when you’re too close to it. When you ask your work or your project what it wants to become, that gives more room for intuition, creativity, and flow.

Be kinder to yourself, and in turn, you will be kinder to whatever you are struggling with.

When we’re caught up in fear-based, negative self-talk, it makes what we are trying to do heavy, immovable, and more difficult. Being kind to yourself might look like sharing with someone that you are stuck on a proposal or donor plan and would love to hear their ideas. It might mean letting go of being perfect and trusting that if you show up and be present as a partner, that donor meeting will go OK. It might mean taking a walk around the block or doing something that makes you laugh when you feel stuck.


So if you’re stuck on something right now, trying to make it happen, and it just won’t – try to approach your fundraising work like an artist would. Give it space to breathe. Be patient with yourself and with the process.


PS — I would love to hear back what you feel you have been bullying or trying to force into existence in your own work. Let me know how this unique set of questions based on the artistic process impacted the outcome for you.