This profile is part of the "People of Giving What We Can" series.
Jon Lumer, a former attorney who started Western Pine Realty in Vancouver Canada shared his story with effective giving with us and we wanted to share it. Jon and his wife signed the Giving What We Can Pledge in July of 2020. They've now donated over $50,000 to effective charities and advocate for effective giving through the business.
Here is our story. It is a simple one.
On August 29, 2016, I heard Will MacAskill on the Making Sense podcast. The notion that a person could in fact save another person's life with what seemed like a relatively small amount of money was a revelation. The idea that this created some sort of obligation to do something was also immediately persuasive. I read Doing Good Better shortly thereafter and this conviction was reinforced.
I sent $1,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation at the end of November that year. Certainly this was the biggest donation I had ever made in my life at the time. Feeling confident that the money would actually do something made all the difference.
In 2015 I had stopped practicing criminal defense law in Montreal, moved across Canada with my wife, and began working in residential real estate sales in Vancouver, British Columbia by the middle of 2016. It wasn't easy getting off the ground, but I could see that the people around me were often making astounding incomes. We were living a nice life off much less. If we made a lot more, would we need it all? Could we justify keeping it or did others need it more? The answer was fairly obvious after reading Will's book.
We tried to become regular givers. It felt empowering when we made a big donation. But the giving could be sporadic. My income, entirely made from sales commissions, was (and is) unpredictable. How much did we need to save for lean times? How should we systematize the giving? Nevertheless, a seed had been planted and we kept giving and increasing our donations. I also felt like an evangelist for effective giving now. I wanted friends to know about GiveWell and effective altruism. I wanted my clients to know.
In July of 2020 my wife and I signed the Giving What We Can pledge. We were ready to commit to giving at least 10% of our income to effective charities for the rest of our lives. We also started our own real estate brokerage shortly thereafter.
By the middle of 2021, we had decided to make all of our donations via the corporation. More and more, I liked the idea of our brand being tied to the effective altruism movement. This would keep us more accountable and hopefully would help spread a message as well.
I decided that even though we couldn't fully anticipate our costs throughout the year and where we would be at the end of the year, it made sense to make our donations as soon as commissions were received. I have found it much easier to give if I do it before I start to even think the money is mine.
We started to give clients the choice of who would receive the money connected with their transactions from a predetermined list of GiveWell's top charities and eventually a couple from Life You Can Save.
We celebrated these donations by giving out sweaters with one of our logos on them and taking photos. We shared these on social media.
By the end of 2022, we had given away $50,000 (Canadian) through the corporation to effective charities over 18 months. For us, this is major. We plan to keep up with this giving and hope we can increase the dollar figure and proportion of giving year over year. We also wanted to put an emphasis on transparency, so we made all of the receipts available to our clients as well.
We have offered clients a free copy of Doing Good Better with every transaction and a few have taken us up on it. One client took us up on an offer to match any additional donation they made to one of the charities up to an amount of $1,000. I'd say we have received a lot of positive feedback.
But the truth is we are not sure of any impact beyond the money that has been donated and we are happy enough with that. This kind of giving feels like a big part of lives now and it makes work feel more meaningful. It makes everything more meaningful.
This post is part of the “People of Giving What We Can" series, which profiles a selection of the Giving What We Can community. The Giving What We Can community is comprised of people from all walks of life, with different perspectives and motivations for giving – all united by their desire to make a significant commitment to use their income to effectively help others.
-Read more member stories.
-Share your effective giving story to help inspire others to give more, and more effectively.