Jonas Vredeveld, a banker, lives in Chicago with his wife and six-month-old daughter. In this interview, he describes his motivations for giving.
Could you briefly describe your giving history?
As a young adult, I gave a few dollars to charities that my friends supported and also “checked the box” by donating to the organization with which my employer was aligned (United Way). These were fairly small amounts that were given more to certify that I was a good person and citizen than anything else. If improving lives resulted from my charitable giving, that was a nice bonus too. That attitude changed about 15 years ago, and with it, my giving patterns. I took much more care in choosing the causes that would receive my donation. Giving became intentional and purposeful and (I hope) more effective.
Do you have a target percentage or amount that you give each year, and if so how do you ensure that you meet your goal?
The minimum I will target is 10% of my family’s gross income with some years reaching up to 20%. Commissions comprise the majority of my paycheck, making it tricky to plan at the beginning of the year. The checks I cut tend to be sporadic, with a couple of big chunks in January followed by silence for the following 10 months. Once November rolls around, I will write a few more big checks. I like the tangible effect of writing a check, because I can feel both the money leaving my hands and envision the impact it will facilitate.
Why do you give?
My church helped me develop a more mature faith, one in which belief in God simply wasn’t enough. Early in my life, believing in Jesus was similar to believing that Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President. Okay, the guy existed but how does it impact me? It was only when faith, obedience, and love were added to the mix that my life and therefore giving habits changed. My heart was softened, Jesus weeded out my covert selfishness, and I soon ventured way out of my comfort zone (both in money & time given). I give out of gratitude, but also with the purpose of improving the woeful condition of the world. The Bible has plenty to say about this. The Sermon on the Mount is a stark reminder of the dangers of materialism, control, and power. And Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a rebuke to any who believe in division based on race, nationality, class, or political status.
Have you encountered any challenges with maintaining your level of giving, and if so how did you overcome them?
I’ve encountered plenty of doubt and second thoughts about my charitable giving. Will my daughter have to grow up with less? Yes. Will I have to delay retirement? Yes. Do I drive a car that’s not in keeping with my salary level? Yes, although I’m kind of proud of that one. Whenever those thoughts occur, they are fairly fleeting. I believe that we will all have to give an account of ourselves at the end of our lives, and I’d like there to be plenty of positives in my ledger. Besides, who wants to be that guy: the one with spoiled kids and an entitled attitude?
How do you stay motivated to keep giving?
Honestly, it doesn’t take much motivation anymore. It has become habit, much like an athlete who works out every day. However, sometimes I’m motivated to become freakishly generous. Last December, an opportunity arose to help a Tennessee family (whom I had yet to meet) adopt a 1-year-old girl with liver disease from China. There was an urgency to adopt her, because as an orphan in China, she simply wasn’t going to receive the medical treatment she needed to survive. To risk sounding overly dramatic, it was a life or death situation. By that point, my wife and I had nearly reached our 10% giving goal for the year. A voice inside me told me to get that girl to her loving family in the States, so we wrote a $5,000 check to help cover travel and adoption fees. If necessary, we would have given more. It didn’t matter that we would likely never meet the child or parents (our close friend in China knew both, so we were comfortable that this wasn’t a scam). Saving that girl’s life was all the motivation we needed. In a funny twist to our story, the leading hospital to care for this girl’s disease happened to be in our hometown of Chicago. The family comes up here somewhat frequently and we were incredibly fortunate to meet the mom and baby daughter on one of their recent trips to the hospital.
The Life You Can Save is a movement of people fighting extreme poverty. We hold that an ethical life involves using some of our wealth and resources to save and improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
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