Benjamin Nathan


One tradition I love is giving a dollar bill to someone before they go on a journey. The idea is to safeguard the person’s travels by asking them to be the messenger of your good deed, delivering that dollar to someone in need when they reach their destination. I do this all the time – with everyone from my family to friends I have just met. I don’t know where the money is going, and most people don’t expect to be handed a dollar. I love this simple way of demonstrating kindness and inviting others to do something special.

Location: Beacon, New York

Profession: Founder, Footage Films

Twitter: @footagefilmsinc

What is your memory of your first gift?

As a kid, I was exposed to the arts from a young age. I remember seeing a musician playing on the street and asking my parents if I could give him a dollar. My parents handed me the dollar bill. What inspired me to give to him was the ability to respond and interact with someone making something so beautiful and magical as music. I realized I could participate in appreciating that act.

How do you define philanthropy?

A willingness to give and to show others hospitality. Generosity inspires me – people who don’t attempt to hold onto things just for themselves… they share. When we get attached to physical things (including money), it can be detrimental both materially and spiritually. I believe that money is energy, and energy only works when it’s in flow. Trying to hoard things for ourselves is, in essence, stopping the flow. We need to participate in the flow of giving and receiving in order to maintain a healthy balance in life both for ourselves and our communities. Spiritually I believe it often works the same way – unless you share it, you lose it. 

Why Be Generous?

I think generosity and giving has been instilled in me since childhood. For one, there’s a tremendous importance placed on giving in the Jewish tradition. In addition, I am inspired to give when I see that my gift is really contributing and making a difference. Whether I’m giving of my time, money, or otherwise, knowing that these resources are having an impact is big for me. At the same time, I feel that it’s healthy to balance this with also giving when you don’t know where and how big the impact will be. That type of anonymous giving (where the impact or recipient is unknown) does a lot to build trust in the Universe, and to increase generosity in the giver. There is a selflessness present in this type of giving that I aspire to continue to develop and nurture in myself.

What do you support?

I love to give to organizations from which I have received nourishment. It’s clear to me that other people get something vital from them too, as I’ve experienced this first-hand.National Dance Institute (NDI) is one of my favorite organizations to give to. They introduced dance into my life when I was a child. I learned to dance through NDI’s in-school program when I was in the 4th grade, and that experience transformed me. It gave me freedom, self-expression, and creativity. It’s where I discovered my love and passion for tap dancing and it’s what led me to work in film by exposing me to the art of choreography. I can’t separate dance and the arts from who I am – NDI’s contribution to my life is really beyond words. I know that in giving to NDI, I’m helping other kids to experience this gift.

In addition, I give to my synagogue communities – Romemu & Kol Hai. I receive a great deal of spiritual nourishment from these organizations, and supporting them financially feels like a natural extension of that. Additionally, at Romemu, there is a business networking group where members support one other by making introductions for business opportunities. When someone gets a project through this network, we pay it forward by contributing ten percent of the proceeds to our community. It’s really touching to see how we are helping each other and the community simultaneously.

What makes your giving unique?

One tradition I love is giving a dollar bill to someone before they go on a journey. The idea is to safeguard the person’s travels by asking them to be the messenger of your good deed, delivering that dollar to someone in need when they reach their destination. I do this all the time – with everyone from my family to friends I have just met. I don’t know where the money is going, and most people don’t expect to be handed a dollar. I love this simple way of demonstrating kindness and inviting others to do something special.
Who inspires you philanthropically?

Gandhi and Mother Theresa. They are perfect examples of people who did not hold onto the physical – they gave away their possessions, and still they gave and gave every day, operating from a place of abundance. When one can operate from abundance, even when the physical reality might appear to be bleak, that is the truest wealth there is. That is the sort of giving that transforms the planet. That’s what’s helped me give of my time, money, and other resources.

How do you give of your time?

In the film production company I founded, we allocate a portion of our client-based proceeds to producing independent social impact films. One that we’re working on right now is about the power of dance to transform children’s lives in NYC. My team and I love doing these projects and often donate our time to make them happen so that we can use our art form to generate positive change in the world – it keeps us all inspired and in flow. I also have taught volunteer tap classes for kids. During high school I spent a week volunteering as a counselor at a camp for teens living with HIV – that experience was particularly meaningful and impactful.

I love the term “praying with your feet” – there’s value in giving financially, but also in giving with your actions – it transforms me while I’m helping and supporting others.



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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