Social Impact Heroes: Why & How John Beltzer of Songs of Love Foundation Is Helping To Change Our World
Therefore, the real takeaway is that I’m grateful for the opportunity to make and learn from my own mistakes. This hands-on experience has been the most valuable training, helping to guide me and the organization to our current position.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Beltzer.
The Songs of Love Foundation, founded by John Beltzer, is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to creating personalized songs for chronically and terminally ill children and young adults. Songs of Love has written and recorded 41,000 personalized songs since its inception in 1996. For more information on the organization, please visit songsoflove.org or call 800–960-SONG.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The Songs of Love Foundation is a national nonprofit organization that provides studio-quality, personalized songs for children and teens battling serious illnesses, including physical and emotional challenges. In January 1996, while walking down the street in my Forest Hills, Queens neighborhood, I had an epiphany to start a charity that would help sick children by creating their very own personalized songs. The name, Songs of Love Foundation, came to me instantly. It was inspired by a song titled “Songs of Love” that my twin brother Julio had written and recorded just three months before his passing on April 12, 1984. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to continue doing what I love — writing and singing songs — while simultaneously bringing joy to sick children. Having been in a band with Julio before he passed away, this endeavor also presented a meaningful way to honor Julio’s memory and keep his musical legacy alive.
Songs of Love recently announced a grant from philanthropists Leon and Toby Cooperman’s Family Foundation who have pledged to match up to 5M dollars towards their 10M endowment campaign. This incredibly generous grant challenge will help us not only support our mission but support musical artists of all genres. Our songs become the soundtrack to the recipients’ lives. We are so grateful to Lee and Toby Cooperman for believing in us, championing our mission, and honoring our work. To read more about the grant challenge or to make a donation please visit gofundme.com/f/songsoflove.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Back in 2015, when we were facing financial struggles, I managed to contact an incredible individual, Leon Cooperman, a Wall Street icon. When I called his office, he surprisingly answered the phone himself. I explained to him about the Songs of Love Foundation. Initially, he indicated that he was already donating to various causes and seemed to suggest that he might not be able to support us. However, I persisted in our conversation and eventually convinced him to contribute, resulting in a donation of $1,000. The following year, he generously sent us $2,500. In 2017, after meeting him in his Manhattan office, I persuaded him to visit our office and see our operations firsthand. In May of that year, he came by, met our staff, board members, and some children who had received their “songs of love” previously. At that time, we were $5,000 in debt and struggling on a month-to-month basis. Impressed by our efficient operations, he quoted Andrew Carnegie, saying, “Those who die rich, die disgraced.” Shortly after, he announced his commitment to grant Songs of Love $250,000 annually for the next four years! This support was a game-changer for us, and we honored him at a gala in 2022, where he pledged to match another million dollars that we raised. This amount was matched by another generous donor, Michelle Lund. Building on this momentum, As mentioned, Leon Cooperman is now pledging to match up to $5 million for our newly launched $10 million endowment campaign. This commitment ensures that Songs of Love will continue to enrich lives for generations to come.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The mistake may not be humorous, but it was certainly a learning experience. When I first started, after about two years, I decided to hire a full staff to help advance our mission. However, we didn’t have sufficient funds to support four full-time employees. I had assumed that with the Development Director I hired, we would see an increase in funding. My understanding of running a nonprofit was limited at the time, and I soon found myself needing to downsize to just myself and one other person. This experience taught me an important lesson: it’s crucial not to rush the growth of an organization. Instead, it’s better to operate within your current means and allow growth to occur naturally.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
• By creating personalized songs for each child, Songs of Love provides more than just entertainment; it offers a form of emotional healing and support. These songs often serve as a source of comfort and strength, particularly during challenging times in hospitals or treatments.
• For children battling serious illnesses, the psychological toll can be as significant as the physical one. The personalized songs help boost their morale, providing a much-needed distraction from their medical struggles, and bringing joy in difficult circumstances.
• Every child’s song is tailored to their own story and interests, which means that each child is recognized and celebrated as an individual. This approach fosters a sense of inclusivity, especially important for children who might feel isolated due to their health conditions.
• Songs of Love collaborates with a wide network of musicians and artists, engaging them in a cause that goes beyond commercial music production. This not only supports the arts community but also promotes a sense of community service and philanthropy within the industry.
• While each song is personalized for a specific child, the impact often radiates out to family members, friends, and caregivers. These songs can provide a shared moment of joy and connection, uplifting not just the child but also those around them.
• Through its work, the Songs of Love Foundation underscores the therapeutic value of music and arts in healthcare settings. This contributes to a broader understanding and appreciation of how arts can be integrated into healing and care.
• By compensating the participating artists, Songs of Love ensures a sustainable model that values creative contributions. This approach respects the artists’ work and ensures the continued creation of high-quality, meaningful content.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Back in 2003, when Danielle Dugan was 7 years old and battling stage 4 cancer, she received a “song of love” that greatly supported her through the difficult times. We organized a special event by the bandshell in Central Park, NYC, where park visitors joined in to add their voices to the choruses of Danielle’s “song of love,” which had been pre-recorded in our studio. The song for Danielle was written by Tony Asher, known for penning the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and several tracks on their ‘Pet Sounds’ album. Remarkably, Danielle made a full recovery and has since become a spokesperson for our organization, sharing her story at numerous fundraising events. She now works at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, the same hospital where she was once a patient.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Here are the three areas that could use the support of the community/society/politicians:
• Politicians and community leaders can advocate for more funding and grant opportunities specifically targeted towards integrating arts into healthcare. This would provide organizations like Songs of Love with more resources to expand their reach. Allocating government or community funds to support such initiatives can also ensure their sustainability and growth.
• Encouraging partnerships between the healthcare sector and arts organizations can be a game-changer. Hospitals, healthcare facilities, and private sector players can collaborate with organizations like Songs of Love to integrate personalized music into their patient care programs. Such partnerships can lead to broader implementation and recognition of the therapeutic benefits of personalized music in healthcare settings.
• Community leaders and politicians can play a crucial role in raising awareness about the importance of mental and emotional well-being in pediatric healthcare. By advocating for the inclusion of arts and music therapy in standard healthcare practices, they can help address the emotional and psychological needs of young patients more comprehensively. Awareness campaigns, community events, and educational programs can highlight the importance of addressing these often-overlooked aspects of child healthcare.
By focusing on these areas, the wider community and leaders can not only support the work of the Songs of Love Foundation but also contribute to a more holistic approach to child healthcare, where emotional and psychological well-being is given as much priority as physical health.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership involves setting aside personal ego and collaborating with individuals who possess skills and expertise that surpass your own, all in the pursuit of the organization’s objectives. Effective leadership is about creating a nurturing environment where employees are empowered to excel and feel safe venturing beyond their comfort zones. It’s about recognizing and valuing the unique contributions of each team member, encouraging their development, and fostering a culture of mutual respect and continuous improvement. A true leader guides by example inspires confidence, and actively listens to and addresses the needs and ideas of their team, ultimately steering the organization towards success through a collective effort.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each of the 5.
I’ve always been someone who thinks outside the box. If I had adhered to the advice I was given, such as never cold-calling billionaires, we wouldn’t have achieved our current success. Under my leadership, Songs of Love has accomplished much in ways that would have been impossible if I had strictly followed conventional guidelines for running a nonprofit. Indeed, there were mistakes made along the way, but these errors were essential for my learning process. Therefore, the real takeaway is that I’m grateful for the opportunity to make and learn from my own mistakes. This hands-on experience has been the most valuable training, helping to guide me and the organization to our current position.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m not certain about the extent of my influence, but I would like to offer this thought: Everyone in this world excels at least in one thing. What everyone can do is reflect on how to utilize their unique talent or skill to contribute positively to the world. For me, it was writing and singing songs. I discovered a way to continue doing what I love while adding goodness and positivity to the world. What more could one ask for?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I resonate with the saying, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Being a risk-taker, I’ve experienced my share of failures, but each failure has been a learning experience, guiding me toward eventual success. Another favorite of mine is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” The present moment is truly all we have, and to fully immerse oneself in its shimmering energy is what brings a kind of everlasting joy that surpasses even the success of a business.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Spending time with Paul McCartney would be an absolute dream for me. I’d relish the opportunity to discuss music with him, diving into his creative process, and the stories behind some of the most iconic songs in history. More importantly, I would share with him a personal story: how, as a 6-year-old in Brazil back in 1966, I was mesmerized by his performance in the movie “Help!” That experience ignited a passion for music within me, a spark that has profoundly influenced my life’s journey.
I’d love to tell him how that moment led me to pursue a life in music, a path that has been both fulfilling and meaningful. For the past 27 years, music has not just been a career for me; it’s been a calling, a way to touch lives and bring joy, much like how his music touched mine. This conversation with Paul McCartney wouldn’t just be a meeting with a music legend, but a full-circle moment, allowing me to express gratitude for the way his art unknowingly guided me towards my life’s work.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How John Beltzer of Songs of Love Foundation Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.