Ben Thoma


Stay true to yourself by giving where you are happiest. It’s the only way that everyone will benefit.

Location: Austin, Texas

Twitter: @StrictlyCircus

Profession: Creative Catalyst

What is your charity of choice?:

Appalachia Service Project. Not only did I volunteer for ASP as a high school student and work for them while a college student, but they shaped more of who I am today than almost anything outside of my parents, family and teachers. ASP taught me what it meant to accept someone for who they were just the way they were. It also taught me how positive volunteering could be, how to confront social injustice, how to lead, how to follow, how “jumping in” to help is more important than knowing “how” to help, and how building relationships was far more important than building a house. I still give today, not just because they make homes warmer, safer and drier for people in need, but because they are shaping a future generation of volunteers who will appreciate all that I have come to learn.
Can you tell me more about how you responded to the Boston Marathon bombings with BAUSTIN?:

This effort is one that still blows my mind.In 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombings I was feeling pretty down. My good friend, Jared, was visiting Austin from Boston. He is a runner and perhaps I was feeling connected to Boston in a stronger way through him, but I grew up in New England and it felt like it hit pretty close to home. I couldn’t shake the need to respond in some way to the tragedy. As a visual communication student during 9/11, I recall how designers around NYC felt a need to create designs and posters in response. I didn’t empathize with that feeling at the time, but after the events at the Boston marathon, I too felt that need to *do* something.

I approached an amazing designer I trusted, Marc Ferrino. I had a few ideas sketched out, but knew that if I was going to create something I’d need to collaborate to make it better. He was extremely busy with his day job, and I’m sure didn’t have the same visceral response to the events, but he was kind enough to hear me when I said I needed help. We jumped around a few thoughts: connections between the cities, the way the names rhymed, both had 6 letters, and then boom: we combined the two names. It was one of the most inevitable solutions I had ever seen. What better way to show unity with the people of Boston, then by unifying our names as one? We added the Red Sox typeface for familiarity and I posted it online.

And that was the idea: create a design that could be used by people on their social media accounts as a show of unity with the people of Boston. At the time I worked for an advertising agency called GSD&M. We were sending a group to a city-wide vigil run and I thought we could put the design on a t-shirt to show our commitment to the people of Boston. Immediately requests started to flood my inbox. People wanted the shirt. But I didn’t have any more.

So, I became a reluctant t-shirt salesman, and we quickly decided that the proceeds needed to go to The One Fund: a fund created to help the victims and families of victims of the attack. That part was easy. The hard part was learning the t-shirt distribution business.

I was literally and figuratively selling shirts out of the back of my car. Then, local businesses got involved. Rogue Running, Mellow Johnny’s, University Co-Op and Parts & Labour all sold the shirts. Eventually, I knew that I would have to find a way to sell them online because the demand was still there, but I couldn’t sustain my own efforts and local businesses couldn’t keep carrying them.

So, for two years the shirts continued to sell online. In total, we raised over $20,000 for The One Fund—just by selling t-shirts. Pretty amazing for something that was supposed to be just a simple social post.

Who inspires you to give?:

My grandmother always inspired me to give through her personality. My parents continue to inspire me to give through their actions. And my children now inspire me to give so I can set the same example for them.

What motivates you to give?:

It’s completely selfish. I get an immense amount of satisfaction from giving. It feeds me in a way earning money never has and I believe never will. My personal past has me hard-wired to find ways to uniquely give to my community and ensure that I’m always putting more effort into the world around me than I seek to get out of it.

How do you give of your time?:

Right now, I give my time to the Austin creative community by organizing CreativeMornings/Austin. On the surface, it’s an event geared towards inspiring creative folks that demands about 20-40 hours a month. Below the surface, it has been a labor of love that involves non-stop thinking about ways to make a unique gathering, collaborations and creative opportunities for the people of Austin.

What advice do you have for others to consider giving?:

Be honest with yourself about what you get out of giving. Own the selfish side to it and ensure that you are giving in ways that brings you satisfaction. You’ll give more and you’ll give better. If you’ve never given of yourself before, then trying lots of volunteer activities is the only way you’ll find that sweet spot. Like other parts of life, I think we can idealize what giving should look like: you stumble onto an organization, have a transformational first experience and then volunteer for life. I think it’s all a bit more messy than that. Giving has false starts and your appreciation for an organization or effort can change. Stay true to yourself by giving where you are happiest. It’s the only way that everyone will benefit.

 



About

Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.


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Why We Give tells stories of ordinary philanthropists, making a difference, dollar by dollar and hour by hour.  

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