Dana is a Pali word meaning gift or generosity (Pali is the language that the Buddha’s teachings were originally recorded in). In the tradition of Insight Meditation, teachings are offered freely, the teachers receiving only voluntary donations from people who receive instruction. This continues an Eastern tradition established in the days of the Buddha where the monks and nuns received no payment for their guidance and depended solely upon donations of food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Similarly donations made to teachers allow them to continue making teachings of wisdom and compassion available.
Dana is a very beautiful and precious aspect of the dharma (teachings and practice). It supports the teachings being available to as many people as possible, and is born of a belief that they are in fact priceless, and no monetary value can be placed on them. If dharma practice is to take root and flower in the west then the culture of dana also needs to grow.