Seed money sprouts change for tiny non-profits

Many a worthwhile project requires a little seed money to get started. Providing that money is one man's passion, and a boon to the committed folks John Blackstone has been talking to.

This story was originally broadcast on March 23, 2014.

Thirteen-year-old Harley Helman loves animals ("Because they're just cute and they're fun to be around. They make you happy"). When she was 8, Harley started collecting blankets, food and toys to donate to animal shelters around Cleveland.

"It makes me feel good about myself that I'm doing something to change lives," she told Blackstone.

With her mom's help, she's already donated more than 3,000 items.

To do more, she decided to turn her charity, Blankets Fur Beasties, into a tax-exempt non-profit. But that takes money a 13-year-old doesn't have.

So she turned to Ari Nessel, who made a fortune in Dallas real estate. Harley became one of the recipients of Nessel's unusual quest: giving away $1,000 a day, every day for the rest of his life, to someone trying to make a difference.

"The thousand dollars that I receive will most likely change my life, because it changed the charity," said Helman. "And it'll turn the whole thing around."

The 40-year-old Nessel created a foundation he calls the Pollination Project. Instead of writing a big check to an established charity, he chooses someone just getting started to receive his daily thousand-dollar donation.

"One of the challenges with the way philanthropy is currently being done is there's such a disconnect between the givers and those who are benefiting from the work."

He sent out his first check January 1st last year, and has selected a new recipient each day since. He gave away his 545th grant this morning -- that's $545,000 and counting.

In the past year-and-a-half, he's awarded grants in 42 different states and in 50 countries.

In India, Raghu Makwan, paralyzed by polio, got $1,000 to deliver meals to people needier than he.

"Here he is, a man who has no legs who you think everyone else should be taking care of, and he would go every day, twice a day, in monsoons, in 105-degree heat, and bring them food. And we want to support that."

Another thousand went to Celia Zaentz, an 88-year-old woman in Southern California who wants to give away her land to support community agriculture and to teach kids how to grow vegetables and fruits.

"There are those who've heard of your model and say giving away small portions of money is not the way to run things: pick one, give a big sum." said Blackstone.

Nessel replied, "My experience is that transformation happens on the fringes and in the micro areas and the individuals, and doesn't happen on the large scale. It happens through all these people coming together in communities, and those communities coming together in larger communities. And so it becomes a movement."