Nik and Marnie Venema are living proof that you don’t have to be middle-aged, established, and wealthy to be generous.
These two millennials are teetering on either side of 30 and still have student loan payments themselves, but they’ve already become significant donors to UFV, the place where they met, fell in love, and gained valuable educational and life experience.
With a donation of $12,500, $1,000 from RBC Dominion Securities through Benevity that honours their employee, Nik Venema’s volunteer service at UFV and University matching funds, two new student awards are being funded: $750 annually for a student in Social Justice and $750 annually for a student in Finance. Previously, the Venemas partnered with fellow UFV Alumni Association Chair Emeritus, Justin P. Goodrich, to establish their first student award endowment at UFV, providing a $750 Leadership Award to a student who contributes through service on a governing body (Board of Governors or Senate) at the University.
“Nik and Marnie are truly influential ripple makers,” says Sherri Magson, director of advancement at UFV. “They are a wonderful example of how you can start to help others while you’re young and still building your own career and financial portfolio.”
Nik (BBA ’12) majored in finance at UFV, while Marnie (BA ’15) took psychology.
“UFV certainly changed our lives and prepared us to serve our community, so we want to help current students undergo the same transformation,” says Nik. “We view post-secondary education as a privilege, and we are determined to stay local in the Fraser Valley and give back to the community.”
“Giving is a lifestyle choice that for me comes back to what I think it is I am doing here on the planet,” says Marnie. “For me, life is not simply about personal happiness, comfort, or consumption, but about improving the world around me. Where I put my money is one of the ways I can engage in doing that. Giving is not something I wait for, but something I can live out and choose each day.”
For Nik in particular, UFV was a life-changer. He had received a big entrance scholarship to UBC and was set to study engineering, but he “crashed and burned and blew that opportunity” in his first year.
When he contacted UFV about restarting his education, he received a warm welcome.
“Someone took the time to advise me of a way to apply where I could leave the past, and my terrible GPA, behind and start fresh. I felt part of the family right from the beginning, like they were looking out for me. I explored all kinds of stuff — kinesiology, visual arts, before landing in finance where I really found my fit.”
Once Nik was settled in as a student, he truly engaged with UFV. He sat on the board of the Business Administration Student Association, was involved in Student Life, became an elected student member of Senate, and eventually the same on the UFV Board of Governors. Upon graduation, he got involved with the Alumni Association, eventually chairing it from ___ to 2017.
And he worked as a Supported Learning Group tutor, through which he met Marnie. Supported Learning Groups are study sessions for difficult courses led by senior students who have done well in the course.
Not only did they each find their future mate through the SLG program and related social events, it helped Marnie find her calling.
“Being an SLG leader at UFV exposed me to being a mentor and helping others succeed, which led me to go into counselling,” notes Marnie, who is completing her MA in counselling at Trinity Western. “I also connected with many great student leaders and staff members who invested in my personal growth.”
All along the way, the Venemas valued the education they were receiving.
“The education at UFV is on par with if not better than the undergraduate experience at UBC in my experience,” Nik says. “It’s such a big game changer in terms of new knowledge, skills, and experience gained, as well as the valuable networking. In my third year I was able to ask Mark Evered (UFV’s president at the time) for a reference. You don’t get that close to the president at every university!”
When Nik and Marnie got married they decided that philanthropy would be a priority at the core of their relationship.
Nik’s background in finance led them to create their own Venema Family Foundation early on, and they concentrated on building a nest egg within that foundation for several years, with a view to becoming donors early in life.
“We save and invest within the foundation, and when we see a cool opportunity to give, that’s what we do,” says Nik. “We decided to just make charitable giving part of the picture right from the beginning. It’s easier when your young to just get in that frame of mind. It’s harder to add it in later when it’s not part of the budget.”
Nik and Marnie still have student debt and have taken on a mortgage. But like a mortgage they see their student loans as something to be paid off over the long term, balancing those payments with other priorities like philanthropy.
“We’re going to be reaping the benefits of our education for the rest of our lives. I see the time we spent in university as an investment in our careers, so I’m not concerned if I have to amortize my student loan over a few decades.”
“Young people should consider philanthropy when they’re young because it’s so rewarding. Many people don’t think seriously about it until they’ve made their millions or hit the age of 85. We want to experience the pleasure of seeing our scholarships given out and meeting the recipients year after year,” says Nik.
“I am excited to be part of supporting students at UFV,” says Marnie. “I know that my time there was very influential in developing me as a person and directing my future career goals. I also received a lot of support through scholarships and awards that made it possible for me to get the most out of my education. I want to be able to support students who are doing good work and want to impact their community in a positive way. Investing in education is one of the best places our money can go! It truly does have a ripple effect and then we get to be a part of all the good work that someone else’s life creates.”
When Marnie was considering what discipline at UFV her award might support, she chose sociology.
“I think some of the most influential aspects of my degree at UFV were the sociology classes I took. Many of the things I learned in those courses have been built upon in my master’s degree in counselling psychology. As a counsellor, I am interested in working alongside individuals in their healing process, but am also very aware that many of the problems my clients come in with are contributed to, exasperated by, or even created, by larger systemic problems in our society.
“It is important to me to stand in solidarity with others who are doing important aspects of work in social justice that I cannot do. This award allows me to partner with students engaged in social justice work so together we can bring about change in our society.”