October 2019 Update

Dear Reader, 

We’re now in full swing here, and in our usual fashion, change is in full swing too. 

Here’s what’s happening under the Benifactor umbrella:

Since my last letter, Frontier has added Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation to its roster, and hopefully soon, Calgary-based Cause Canada. Meanwhile, BC Women’s Health Foundation and Regeneration Outreach Society’s relationship as clients of Frontier have ended. 

In our effort to grow to 20 clients this year we’ve managed to do little more than tread water. The budget I created in mid July did not account for so few clients heading into fall. 

In prep for our fall growth, as well as Sophie’s upcoming parental leave, the Frontier Team welcomed Alix as Print Marketing Strategist. We also moved to two full time writers by bumping up Sam’s hours and welcoming back our second boomerang, Mariya! 

And, because life would be boring if everything went as planned, “matt leave” Matt has moved to Scotland to serve Global Family Care Network for the next six months and Shay went the way of Steph Field and got scooped up by Big Brother

It feels like we’ve been blessed with a great farm system, with Mark stepping into Shay’s boots and “we’d have hired him sooner or later” Sawyer joining the Client Success team. 

We’re now on the search for a Digital Marketing Coordinator to fill out our roster.  

To sum things up, in the immortal words of Mike Tyson, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. 

Meanwhile, Charity Electric has been rolling with a steady diet of Capacity For Growth Plans. I’ve been working to support Innes with a growing roster of subject matter experts to help him deliver the best value in the business. 

BKeeper finalized its brand but was unable to retain Acts for Water as its initial client. It was a devastating blow at the time, but thanks to our clear focus on getting back into the black, our leadership team has done an excellent job thus far of adjusting to this reality. 

Related to the above departure, we’re also reeling from the sudden loss of one of our administrative leaders and Benifactor’s accountant. If you can recommend an accounting firm to help oversee a steadily growing  $3+million business, that would be pretty cool.

All of these changes have led me to ponder a couple things. In July 2018, just prior to taking these letters public, I wrote about a core philosophy of Benifactor that I now consider gospel. I said the following:

“[Draft and Develop] refers to our philosophy of creating our players. [...] Free agency works well in some sports (baseball) and poorly in others (football). [...] Our culture matters too much, our system too refined, to let someone who isn’t prepared to be humbled enter our tribe.” 

To emphasize this belief, I’ve created an annual award to celebrate excellence from a first-year employee: the Rookie of The Year award. The effect an outstanding new employee can have on our team is so impactful that it needs to be recognized. 

Each year I will poll our Senior Leadership on  who they feel most fulfills the qualifications listed below:

  • Have their first year be between retreats

  • Not be a member of Senior Leadership

  • Embodies core values (now posted here)

  • Demonstrated progression over the year

  • Quantifiable impact

  • If part-time to full-time, this demonstrates progression

  • Apprenticeship time and contracting time does not count against eligibility 

As a reward, they will see their name on an award presented at our retreat, they’ll receive up to $2,000 towards attending a conference of their choice, and be recognized as having an extra year’s service time (in other words, they’ll earn their fourth year vacation time one year sooner).  

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This year was a tough choice, but the inaugural name presented at our retreat this week was Katie Mutrie. Katie has excelled in every way at Frontier; she’s resourceful, curious, independent and a servant leader. 

You see, great performance isn’t limited to veteran leaders. I witnessed this first-hand watching 19 year old Bianca Andrescu take down Tennis great, Serena Williams. I also noticed a quote on the wall as Bianca was walking out of the stadium that speaks so well to another core belief I have. It said:

Pressure is a privilege - it only comes to those who earn it. 

- Billie Jean King.

The Benifactor team experiences great pressure on the regular. Those who thrive here have excelled with increasing pressure. Excellent junior employees naturally become great leaders as we’ve seen from our entire senior leadership (Francis, Innes, Sarah, Nick, and Sophie). 

Finally, it’s not just the outstanding rookies that need to be recognized. While our team isn’t showing up to work each day for the money, we shouldn’t be left behind either.  

I recently announced to the team increased limits to our Health Spending Accounts, the roll-out of a group RRSP program, and the summer implementation of annual bonuses. No one should work here for the money, but it also shouldn’t be a barrier. 

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

2019 Annual End of Year Letter

Dear Reader,

What a year it’s been. This time a year ago I quietly transitioned my letters from private Google docs to the openness of the web. I shared the strategic goals for the year for all to see and began our march forward, providing monthly updates along the way.

In a single year’s time, a great deal has happened. But it’s not my story alone. This letter below includes the 43 names of those who made this year what it was.

In this letter I plan to review each organization’s year and point towards the future.

FRONTIER

Frontier has added five wonderful clients, while releasing one client after many years of partnership and growth. Most have expanded their relationship with Frontier by signing on for expanded contracts while a couple have pared down.

The Frontier team has seen some dynamic action:

  • Hired eight new employees - Eric, Katie, David, Mariya, Jordan, Shay, Mark, and Tori.

  • Welcomed three team members from Charity Electric, Francis, Ryan, and Sam.

  • Expanded our work with super-contractors “Paper Jack” Jana and Marcin.

  • Had our first-ever boomerang with the return of Laura.

  • Celebrated Silvana’s parental leave.

  • Wished Amy farewell to conquer the world of triathlons and landscaping.

  • Marvelled as Sarah quit and subsequently co-founded BKeeper.

Frontier revenue grew alongside these massive changes, up $257 thousand from a year ago and $795 thousand from two years ago.

We’re just waking up to Frontier’s potential and ongoing success. This year we had our first ever Frontier Feast, celebrating 8 years of serving charities. We’re learning to talk about ourselves more to the outside world through Facebook, Instagram, email, and case studies.

The real impact, though, is that of Frontier’s clients. In 2018, $11.6 million was raised for our clients. The outcomes can be shown in this amazing Annual Report.

So, I hope you can see why I wrote in my June letter, it’s our time to shine.

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While we rejoice for Mariam to return home to be with her family in Malaysia, we mourn her loss to the team. I look forward to hearing of her continued growth and I await what contributions she can bring as an alum.

The mantel has been passed to Francis, now the fifth GM in Frontier’s history. As previously mentioned, his role will be primarily managing people and processes while others take on production and external leadership.

With Megan’s move both to the northern outpost of Edmonton and as Ads and Awareness Coordinator, the “rhombus” of senior leadership now falls onto Francis, Nick, and Sophie. These three are icons of our culture.

The changes outlined in June’s letter have begun. We’ve welcomed Royal Alex Hospital as Frontier’s newest client and added nearly $10 thousand per month to payroll in the form of August raises.

We’re aiming to meet or exceed 20 clients managed by a team of 20 this fiscal year. Can they raise $20 million in 2020?

As I said in my last letter, the year ahead is about optimizing a winning strategy, not expansion into uncharted territory.

Frontier is a perennial winner.

GLASS REGISTER / QUARTERMASTER

When I first drafted the vision for Benifactor in May of 2016, I structured a department known temporarily as “Product Enterprise”. The idea, of course, being that this would be a Benifactor organization focused on building the products we need as marketers; like our donation system, Glass Register.

Well, the funds kept going towards the growth and maintenance of Glass Register and the client growth of GR was slow, so the vision faded away.

But now it’s back. I don’t have aspirations of Glass Register seeing explosive growth, but we have a small list of further products that our team of programmers can build to make their work for Frontier more efficient and effective.

Structurally, to ensure that Quartermaster serves at the pleasure of Frontier, Heath has been renamed Assistant General Manager and reports directly to Frontier’s general manager.

Glass Register revenue is up 26% year over year with now 20 clients.

One aspect of Charity Electric, hosting services, have been moved to Quartermaster. Hosting revenue grew 20% year over year with 18 clients.

In the days ahead there will be some branding work done by Frontier alum Luke, continual growth and development, and additional team resources as the client roster grows.

Steady as she goes for Quartermaster this year.

CHARITY ELECTRIC

In the same way as with Quartermaster, Charity Electric has been restructured to serve as a division of Frontier, with Innes as Assistant General Manager reporting to Frontier’s general manager.

But that’s only the beginning of a very complicated year for CE. While there are many highlights in the annual report, it was a down year for Charity Electric.

Revenue, excluding hosting services, was down nearly $100 thousand. Meanwhile, expenses were up $35 thousand. What was once an organization with modest profit turned into a $79 thousand loser.

Worst of all, we weren’t delivering excellence with our clients. I wrote in December about these issues, to which Innes and Francis have made great strides to the point that I have a skip in my step when I think of Charity Electric.

We began the year with Francis, Jon, Johnny, Innes and super contractor Erikka. Shortly after our year started, Johnny left to join the tech industry and Ryan arrived to take his place. We also saw the departure of CE’s co-founder and first general manager Jon, as he set about on his own. We then grew with the addition of Alisha and welcomed Sam from elsewhere in Benifactor.

As mentioned in June, and above, we’ve whittled Charity Electric down to two employees. We’re planning on refining further and maintaining focus on the above core activities.

Charity Electric is here for charities during their watershed moments. Currently those are Capacity For Growth plans, website builds, and brand refreshes.

While we may still be hearing a few sour remarks from former clients, I’m proud to say that our decision in the new year to focus on three core projects has been fruitful. We’ve recently completed plans for Bissell Centre and Cause Canada, and are about to embark with plans for Mission Possible and Welcome Hall Mission, with several more prospects in the pipeline.

Back to black for Charity Electric as it once was, so it shall be again.

GOOD MARKETERS GROUP & SOCIETY

There’s not as much to say for Good Marketers Group & Society, and at this point you’re skimming anyways, but there were some key moments.

Good Marketers saw the spring departure of co-founder and first general manager Steph to work at “the man” shortly after hiring April as part-time Recruitment Coordinator.

While I miss having Steph around, I’m glad she’s still in our world both as a key contributor to my softball team, and through the success of every one of the new hires we have.

As our year was beginning, the first cohort of apprentices, Kelby, Taylor, Zach A., Tori, and Jeremy were finishing their summer with us. I hope their time with us with valuable and memorable.

Then, in the second half of the year we incorporated Good Marketers Group Society to be the home of our apprenticeship program. The bad news was that the foundation of the program, the Canada Summer Jobs grant, never came.

While we never hired GMG apprentices officially, Steph managed to find homes for Mark, Maddy, and Tori. Keep a lookout for these three.

Next month I’ll expand on my now deeply ingrained draft and develop philosophy. It’s because of the way these folks live out our core values that I’m so keen for us to build up leaders from within.

Good Marketers Group, the recruitment organization, aided Benifactor with an unbelievable 14 completed placements.

This year we’re aiming to stay as small as possible and break even while serving the search needs of Frontier and Charity Electric as needed.

The future is bright for GMG once we can get back into the black.

CAPSTONE

While Capstone Fundraising was able to engage with four clients and $21 thousand in consulting revenue, it cost nearly $100 thousand to do that.

Needless to say, Capstone had to be shut down.

I write these letters for pleasure and to provide transparency. Thinking about this painful loss and the experiences around it isn’t fun at all, but if you have questions feel free to email me.

BKEEPER

Throughout the year I had been pondering what’s next for Benifactor.

Combine a review of where Benifactor spends its money, a conversation with a would-be client, and Dave’s desire to move on from bookkeeping services, and bam!

A bookkeeping service dedicated to charities and like-minded organizations is born.

Sarah began her tenure working part-time from home overseeing our organizations as well as Acts for Water.

In the year ahead we plan to partner with another accounting agency as Dave moves on to pursue another career, and add a couple more organizations to the roster.

The hive is just being built. In the years ahead I can foresee Bkeeper being a million dollar business overseeing tens of millions in transactions.

Good thing our office lease expires in 2022. To steal a quote from actor Roy Scheider, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

BENIFACTOR & BEYOND

We’re rounding third and heading home now.

This time last year, those of us “running” Benifactor included myself, Emily C., Zach, Heath, Dave, and Chris. Emily’s departure made way for GMG graduate Tina, but that experience was short-lived. In November, after a sabbatical in the fall, Zach departed for a cool job with Domain7.

Briefly I was dubbed “Zina”, assuming the roles of Benifactor’s assistant and chief of staff. During that time Heath was seconded to work exclusively on Glass Register, and Chris was asked to focus exclusively on Capstone.

Further, Dave began focusing on other pressing issues in life and was less consistently present.

While we hired Sam to help, her gifts were ultimately best as a junior writer, where she finds herself at Frontier.

Admittedly spring 2019 was a difficult time of life for me. I didn’t express it at the time but the stress was crushing me, and I found myself without any support.

Capstone and Charity Electric were bleeding money. Consequently, I felt I needed to work through the weekend to try to keep up with the day to day administration and cleaning of Benifactor, at least for a season.

This difficult period allowed me to recentre on my purpose, and ultimately Benifactor’s, and build an epic comeback.

Here’s a few highlights of this spring and summer:

  • We increased our engagement with John Caplin to ensure leaders have access to a coach.

  • We increased our engagement with Amala and hired Ryan S. to be our “Spaceman”.

  • I received my Birkman certification to be able to provide all of our staff with the Birkman’s invaluable insights.

  • BKeeper was launched and Sarah relieved me of bookkeeping duties.

  • A meeting with John Pellowe, CEO of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, convinced me I needed an EA.

  • Melissa was hired and has exceeded my every hope.

Life started to take off thanks to Melissa allowing me to travel often and fully embrace the role of “Ben the connector”. I’ve never travelled so much in my life nor had so many meetings, and I can’t believe how much I’m loving it.

As mentioned, this time has allowed me the opportunity to focus the vision of the company and my vocation. Check out updated copy on the website.

Our strategy is clear - it’s to serve charities by increasing their revenue, overseeing their expenses, hiring their talent, and growing their leadership.

Finally, I love to use quotes in my letters so I thought I’d conclude with an excerpt from Sapiens that helps to explain why I speak of our corporate history.

“Unlike physics or economics, History is not a means for making accurate predictions. We study not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither nature or inevitable and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we can imagine”

I look forward to experiencing the year ahead with you folks. I’m excited for the challenges ahead as well as the rewards of our efforts.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

PS - Next month I will be talking about our culture, revisiting the draft and develop philosophy, and announcing a new award, Rookie of the Year.

July 2019 - A Benifactor Update By The Man in Black

Here’s something I hate to admit, especially to myself: I’m terrible with money. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know my way around a budget and a balance sheet better than most. I can even create money, as evidenced by our growth from a one-man shop to next year’s budget revenue of $3.2 million. We’ve had Frontier clients remind me of revenue forecasts I’ve created for them years ago that have been reasonably accurate predictions of their outstanding growth.

Recent financial challenges at Benifactor hit another summer low, this time a scary one. The others have been scary but this one has left a mark. This year there was quite the story, last year it was different, and the year before that yet another issue. I shouldn’t be surprised. A year ago, in my August 2018 letter I wrote the following:

 “A pattern seems to have emerged where each summer new things begin while admittedly other things burn to the ground and choke our ability to live a full life.”

 I also wrote this in that same letter

“After ten years of entrepreneurship I’ve got to be honest here. I haven’t broken even. I have more debts than assets and so does Benifactor. I gave up all equity in a house during the hottest housing market in Victoria’s history to keep full control over this company. I was married and now I’m not (well, basically). I went to close a Frontier client a day after Matthew was born, and only realized a month ago I don’t have any photos of his birth.“

The good news I have to report a year later, is that as of this month I’m no longer married. 

So what gives? I believe money is a story.

There’s a blessing and a curse with this belief. When I was the treasurer for the Table Church I told them that their budget was “the story of their year”. I’ve told employees to increase their worth as evidenced by growing paycheques. I’ve influenced donors to give up their money to the better story of a gift to help others.

When it comes to Benifactor I’m an expansionist because growth tells the story of success. Money sitting in the bank, particularly my bank account, is a boring story. 

However, this recent season of life has left an indelible mark on me that has ultimately reminded me of the story I want to tell with money and why, after all, I named this company Benifactor - I want to help people who help people.  

See, when I was 16 and my dad passed away, it resulted in two major stories around money. 

He passed away at 51 and his dad at 48. He was also recently divorced, living in a mobile home, his bakery shut down, and dead broke. He lived a hard life but it didn’t seem to amount to anything. 

Though I had become a Christian a few years prior to his passing, he wanted none of it. And so when my priest Peter Parker (not Spider-man) was giving his eulogy he mentioned that he didn’t know my dad but knew him by his work, a baker. So he quoted the following:

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ - JC

It’s taken me years to realize the stories I’ve been telling myself. First, I didn’t think I would live very long so I haven’t cared to save for old age. Second was I need to spend my time helping others in real need. 

This quote from Steve Jobs has always stood out to me,

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

And it’s with that quote I want to focus my letter. I didn’t create Benifactor to make money, but to do good in the world. Any step away from this focus has resulted in pain. In other words, if you want to help me achieve my mission, organize yourself and your resources to help me help charities.  

I said in my previous letter that I would write more about Quartermaster, but I went a different direction with this letter than I was planning. 

Next letter, however, is our annual report and the core message I will expand on will be these two points:

  • the year ahead is about optimizing a winning strategy, not expansion.

  • Our strategy is to serve charities by increasing their revenue, overseeing their expenses, hiring their talent, and growing their leadership.

For now, I’ll explain the headline of the letter, and try to lighten things up. 

I was pondering how I got into this financial mess and how I was going to tell myself the story I needed to get out of it, and what story to tell others. Then came a moment of inspiration when I was driving Ellie home from summer camp.

Ellie was telling me about the theme from camp, It starred Princess Penelope and Prince Julian and to her, it was absolutely riveting. A keepsake she has from the week was a note of encouragement from Princess P. That reminded me of my camp days and got me thinking - I need a theme for the year ahead. 

As a financial nerd I came up with the following theme: to get “back in the black” both personally and professionally. If Benifactor and I are in the black, then it’s part of the story that helps me help others. One can’t be a generous benefactor if they’re not in a position of strength themselves.  

And then a song came to mind. 

“Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,

Why you never see bright colors on my back,

And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.

Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,

But is there because he's a victim of the times.


I wear the black for those who never read,

Or listened to the words that Jesus said,

About the road to happiness through love and charity,

Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,

In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,

But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,

Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.”

I started wearing black to work on July 9th.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

20/20/20 Vision - A Late and Large June Update

Dear Reader, 

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This is my June update but I suspect you’re reading this in early July. Time keeps slipping by faster than I’m able to keep up. Unlike the guys from OK Go, I haven’t mastered the faster speeds on life’s treadmill.   

The way I feel right now is much the same as Matthew and I as we jostled up and down the roller coaster at Playland. He and I were pretty sure we were going to be the first father son duo to fall out of the back of a rollercoaster. 

Mental health has been on my mind a lot these days. It’s been a revelation to me this month that my body can’t keep up with the pace I’ve been operating. As most of you know I had a health scare this month. I suddenly passed out while enjoying Tacos and a beer at Blanco Cantina in Calgary. Spending the night hooked up to an ECG machine wondering why your body shut down does wonders to remind you to focus on what counts. 

So with 2020 vision on the future, what lies ahead for Frontier with Mariam’s impending departure? 

This will be a long update so feel free to get comfortable, otherwise tl;dr it’s our time to shine. 

Frontier is in growth mode and will be Canada’s premier fundraising agency for 20 fabulous charities and will be a competitive employer for 20 good marketers. 

I’m going to share some of the facts of what’s changing, some history, and some vision.

Starting July 2, Francis “Q” Quintal will be Frontier’s new general manager, and for two months Mariam “Gone Girl” Ghani will spend two months as GM Emeritus. My hope is that, during her lame duck time in office, she plays pranks on Francis just like the Clinton Administration did with the incoming Bush Jr administration and take all the Q’s from our keyboards. 

Second, Charity Electric will officially be, as it once was, a division of Frontier. Innes Purdue will join Frontier’s top leadership, along with Nick Tassell and Sophie Wooding, and manage the special projects division focused on “watershed moments” such as brand refreshes, fundraising plans, and websites. In addition to Innes as general manager, Charity Electric will retain a project coordinator position. The web developer and junior writer positions will move to Frontier to bolster the Frontier production team. 

Thirdly, Glass Register which currently has 18 clients with general manager Heath Johns at the helm, will now be part of a department of Frontier known as Quartermaster whose primary purpose will be the creation and maintenance of tools to support the fundraising agency. A long time ago we called this department Product Enterprise. Again, this is a refocusing on an older vision. More on that next month.  

Further bolstering our team, Frontier will expand its team to have five strategists - two for digital, two for print, and one leader of integrated marketing to rule them all. Megan McCaffery, who’s been our digital marketing strategist, is moving to a new role as Advertising and Awareness Coordinator. What once was a very small digital team is now a team of six. 

Frontier has also recently finalized the hiring of a senior writer to compliment our new junior writer. We’ll be posting for a Digital Marketing Strategist position soon so keep tabs on frontier.io/careers if you’re interested. 

Charity Electric has been working with Mennonite Brethren Seminary providing direct-response fundraising services, and as of this writing, they are now being partnered with the Frontier team. 

I’ve also been working with one of our suppliers to move two of their key accounts to Frontier. They’ll continue to be working with those clients, but Frontier will manage the strategy and bring additional creative production and digital fundraising to the relationship.

Quite suddenly Frontier has 18 employees with 18 clients. Our services revenue will soon be double what it was in Spring 2017 and our payroll will also have doubled. Frontier desks now take up three quarters of the office. 

Without focusing on growth, Frontier has continued to grow and mature every year since  November 2010, when I turned on my iMac in the basement suite of 1314 Pandora Ave and started contracting out marketing strategy services. 

We were small for so long, but we’ve been growing, so why say Frontier is *now* in growth mode?

I’ve decided to capture my thoughts of it in three quotes from one of the greatest movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption

“Same old shit, different day”

I’ve had a very full adulthood so far. Back in the early oughts, I was a camp counselor for kids born in the mid 90s. This weekend I drove my 10 year old daughter to camp and I’m an employer of those mid 90s kids.

10 years ago I was speaking at Net Squared events talking about digital trends. Now I sponsor it and Megan takes the stage instead of me.  

I’ve had the opportunity in the last ten years to amass several things I haven’t fully appreciated - an incredible national-wide network, in-depth fundraising experience, and lightly seasoned executive leadership.  

While I’m able to notice the constant growth in Nick, Sophie, and Mariam since I interviewed them almost half a decade ago, I struggle to recognize how I might’ve changed through the years. 

Despite a decade of rapid change, I’ve discovered some things are fairly constant. This is where experience becomes valuable, but I’ve discovered a catch that relates to my time at summer camp. I call it spaghetti Wednesday. 

Susie, our camp cook, had a pretty regular routine when it came to weekly meals. A few weeks in you realize that you know what you’ll be eating for every meal for the rest of the summer. Then you come back next summer and realize the routine is the same. 

I worked at that camp for years. Same spaghetti every effing Wednesday. I don’t like pasta. 

But, instead of saying, “not this again” a good leader grabs a noodle and does their best to make a handlebar mustache. In other words, experience shouldn’t lead to fatigue; it’s a chance to guide the experience of others.  

As much as I felt like life was changing so rapidly for me, I’ve realized that a significant portion of it is surprisingly constant. After some introspection this spring I’ve realized my career isn’t that of an entrepreneur on a journey, but instead a leader of an ever-changing group of curious, resourceful, and independent service leaders. 

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“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

One of our longest clients, Reverend Al Tysick, taught me something when I was just starting. He said “charities are either growing, or dying”. I’ve seen that to be true, even if it means a charity is very slowly dying. 

Now, what he’s describing is what’s commonly described as “The Business Life Cycle”, pictured below. Frontier’s history has had three eras - the launch phase of 2010-2014, the growth of 2015-2017, followed by a shake-out in 2017 that’s continued till now. 

One thing Frontier observed, leading to a difficult shakeup in spring of 2017, was that attempting to stay at a plateau leads to decline. We weren’t courting clients, there wasn’t a vision for constant improvement and growth, so it naturally declined instead. Now we’re going to focus on CANI - continuous and never-ending improvement.  

The era that begins July 2 with Francis as GM requires us to refine policies and procedures like never before. His role will be primarily managing people and processes while others take on production and external leadership. 

Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL now public figure, has a quote: “two is one, and one is none”. The old Frontier team had *a* person in each role, now we’ll have duality. Departments are emerging. 

I expect our team to grow across the board and standards to rise. Our standards of compensation will rise as well. Working at Frontier has the benefits of a four-day week and purposeful work, but it should also be a competitive employer with compensation. 

In next year’s budget - beginning August 1 - we’ve earmarked aggressive raises for our team. Our collective goal this year should be to steadily increase our value to our colleagues and clients. 

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“I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.”

In 2020 I would like to see Frontier leading the fundraising efforts of 20 charities across North America. Two new positions, yet to be decided, should be added to the team. 

Frontier will stay at the leading-edge of integrated marketing. It will establish its reputation for being a leader in the industry and an effective and efficient agency of choice for clients who value what we provide. 

We’ll be spending more time talking about ourselves, both on Instagram to former and future Frontieros, or on Facebook to our client-community. We’ll be travelling more and conferencing. We’ll grow our leadership in the health and international development sectors as well as in our historical strength, the poverty reduction sector.

Frontier is going to shine because it’s not meant to be contained. 

In winter 2015 when I told the team we’d be a group of 12 with 12 great clients I hadn’t anticipated the effects of slow and steady turnover. The entire leadership of that era has since moved on while almost all of the clients remain. In other words, Frontier’s vision needs to transcend the team of today. 

In 2025 I turn 40 and Frontier turns 15. There’s going to be ups and downs along the way. The team will continue to morph and move on. There are many weddings, babies, moves, and even more life changing events for our team to come. 

I’m going to do my best at stomaching all those spaghetti dinners and rejoice as Frontier and its team soars. 

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Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

Hard To Swallow Pills and Reporting our 18/19 Second Quarter Results

Well, normally this update would be a quarterly update and I could fire some big numbers your way and we would get on with our day. But today I have some team updates that will impact how Benifactor operates for the foreseeable future.

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Two amazing leaders in the Benifactor community, Mariam Ghani and Stephanie Field, have given me their notice and are moving on to new adventures.

Mariam began her career at Frontier working directly for me and Emily Cheevers, Frontier’s first real General Manager [I don’t count]. We struggled to find her weakness. She was absorbing new information like Neo in the Matrix.

Thankfully, we were training Mariam to judo chop the charity world and raise millions for Canada’s poorest people, for babies and new mums, for those without proper access to education, and for people seeking recovery from addiction.

Mariam’s four year rise to General Manager has been a sight to behold. When Frontier needed a change of leadership, I asked her to watch Gladiator. I needed a soldier to lead Rome.

Early on into the movie (she managed to watch all of the Director’s cut edition) the dying emperor asks his General, played by Russell Crowe, to become General Manager. And this happens:

Marcus Aurelius:

Won't you accept this great honor that I have offered you?

Maximus:

With all my heart, no.

Marcus Aurelius:

Maximus, that is why it must be you.

She got the point. What began next was the greatest run Frontier has ever been on, and a trajectory of client and corporate success that is a testament to her great leadership.

What Mariam and Stephanie have in common is an ability to grow other leaders too. The Benifactor world is blessed with leaders of all types. Nick Tassell continues to guide our team and clients and encourage the growth of talented and emerging leaders, like Chantal New.

Though we’ll be sad and happy for Sophie Wooding while she goes on parental leave this winter, we can count our lucky stars that Katie Mutrie has been a self-driven learning machine since her first week on the job.

Matt Hussey continues to embarrass me with his knack for growing our revenue while also beaming with positivity. All at a younger age than when I was in charge of Frontier’s clients’ success.

Thanks to Stephanie’s work as Good Marketers Group’s GM, her steady efforts to step-up our HR processes, her amiability and unflappable exterior, we have a team in place that’s ready to step up and lead as her and others move on.

Benifactor is a sports team, not a family. For more on this subject, please read this article. While I’m sad to retire Mariam and Stephanie’s jerseys, I’m curious to observe the development of the new cohort that attended my “newbie’s” presentation.

Finally, our leadership and corporate structure changed in a third way this Spring - Chris Primeau is no longer with Benifactor, and Capstone Fundraising has been shut down.

I have the utmost respect for Chris and the leadership he provides to the charitable sector, within his family, and to the church community. While Capstone, which provided major giving consulting to charities, didn’t find its footing I trust Chris will. Chris is a team player and strategic thinker and a smart charity will one day call him their Executive Director.

So, finances.

For our fiscal 2018/2019 third quarter the company posted quarterly revenue of $625 thousand, an increase from $561 thousand the year-ago quarter.

Continuing the trend of growth over the last two years, our revenue this quarter is 46% higher than two years ago.

This year has been the year of moderate growth. I’m expecting that the fourth quarter will be similar.

Sadly, in spite of such growth, net cash was quite negative at -$41 thousand versus last year an increase of $54 thousand. This issue is top of mind for day to day operations for the fourth quarter.

Some other highlights:

  • Glass Register now has 18 active clients, representing slow and steady growth.

  • Frontier’s revenue is up over $200 thousand year-to-date compared to last year.

  • Charity Electric, though it’s struggled to meet targets, has created new processes to deliver incredible websites, rebrands, and marketing plans for our clients.

If you have any questions or comments based on this letter, feel free to email me at ben@benifactor.com.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

April 2019

I decided to write this letter while flying this month. Or more precisely, if I didn’t write this letter while flying, I’m not sure if I’d ever get it done. In 30 days I’ll have flown to Moncton, Edmonton (twice), Calgary, Kelowna, Toronto and Vancouver. Spring has sprung, which for Benifactor means the season of growth and new opportunities.

When I was a kid summer was the busy season in Christina Lake and instead of enjoying the warm summers that brought all the tourists, I flew as an unaccompanied minor to visit my grandparents and other relatives. This continued into my teens, ending in a missed flight and free accommodations courtesy of Delta airlines and a very grateful letter to the airline from my mum.

My youth trained me to accept change as a constant where others might, as my recent travel companion has demonstrated, heave into a vomit bag. Conversely, proceeding through life at a walking pace makes my soul ache.

This month, I want to write about one of our five P’s, Procreation, and announce our newest venture, BKeeper.

About five years ago Frontier had just hired Zach Bulick as creative director and shortly after made a series of great hires, including Sophie Wooding, Nick Tassell, and Mariam Ghani—the three of whom recently completed four years of employment—and we were riding high. We had more work than we could shake a stick at, an enormous new office, and a great team.

As an entrepreneur, my job was done.

We were, from then on, going to refine Frontier’s purpose. We capped our client list at a dozen—allowing for some chuckles due to my bakery roots—and made a point to tell our clients about our vision to be a team of twelve with a dozen clients. We even swapped offices with our next door neighbours to fit into a space that was just right.  

My time at the office dwindled and I spent much of the summer on my front porch bored and aimless. I’d committed to a vision that kept me from disrupting the work environment that would allow the Frontier team to thrive. But the downside was that I failed to find my purpose.

Then, the journey began again, accidentally. New leads kept coming in, and instead of saying no, I said Frontier’s full but I could do the work myself. Later that summer while out on a date I watched the Electric Timber Co play and thought, wouldn’t Charity Electric Co be a fun name for all this side hustle I’m doing?

There’s now a team of five with two former employees, and over half a million in revenue from serving charities across the country.

Finally, in spring 2016 I reframed the whole picture. What if Frontier was the prequel to a larger story that was just beginning?

I wanted a company name that spoke to the angel investing/venture capital world as I was beginning my infatuation with the show Billions, and I wanted it to have my name in it so I couldn’t work myself out of the business as I had done with Frontier. I also wanted it to speak to my desire to create social impact through business.

Thus Benifactor Capital was conceived.

My role as CEO, aside from these letters and connecting people, is to spur on creation. Profit is the work of a great team with excellent processes who manage their boundaries well, but without procreation, we will slowly mature and ultimately die.

One major challenge for our team is working within different phases of the entrepreneurial journey. While the Frontier team continues to mature as a multi-million dollar business, others need to count every cent and hold multiple roles.

One major opportunity for our team is that, when an established team engages with procreation, it could mean the birthing of a new enterprise. The Frontier team created Glass Register as a solution to our own needs to build better donation forms. Our rising HR costs ended with the creation of Good Marketers Group.

Now, in response to our rising bookkeeping costs, and to quell ongoing requests for a referral to a fast, efficient, and cost-effective bookkeeper, this summer we’ll be launching BKeeper. And, it’s with great pleasure that I’ve asked Sarah Kryzmowski, another great hire from 2015, to be its first general manager.

On May 1, her first day on the job, Sarah will be tasked with sorting transactions for six organizations with plans to add two more over the summer.

BKeeper’s colour within the spectrum will be honey and will make ample use of puns involving bees. For instance:

Our purpose is to take the sting out of bookkeeping; our joy is looking after your honeypot. We believe there’s pride in doing the small things well. By coming alongside your organization and overseeing your most basic transactions, our hope is to let you do what you do best and blossom to your full potential.

By creating new organizations and empowering entrepreneurial leaders, I feel connected to my purpose and ultimately my creator. It’s central to Benifactor but it might not be your cup of tea. If you’re in our community and don’t see yourself as creative or akin to change, I simply request that you become a defender of the new.

Your gifts might be in analyzing existing systems or optimizing processes, and with those gifts we can truly achieve greatness. But fear and criticism of emerging ideas is a different story. We all need to be caretakers of the vulnerable, and that includes innovation. I will end my letter with a quote from one of my favourite movies, Ratatouille, which speaks to the heart of what I ask of you all:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.“

PS -  2018’s Annual Reports are finally here! Take a gander at all the milestones we achieved together last year:

Frontier
Charity Electric

March 2019

Dear Reader,

This month, Benifactor took a step forward in our efforts to be cool and launched our social profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. And, chances are, you were notified of this letter thanks to our newly formed email list.

If there’s anything you’d like to see, including me wearing my daughter’s age 6/7 dress, message me on any of those channels or email ben@benifactor.com.

The initial vision for Benifactor is just shy of three years old and, just like my kids when they were about that age, it’s starting to form its own personality. We have established core values, a framework for management that lets our general managers take ownership, and a stabilized structure that allows us to grow into our adult frame.

Through communication here and on social media, I’m hoping to leverage the protégé effect. Or, in the words of the Stoic philosopher Seneca, “While we teach, we learn.'' Last summer I made the leap to publicize my monthly letters that I started writing in April 2017. With that change, the tone had to adjust, and a new layer of accountability was set to emerge by opening the content to anyone.

To requote my October 2018 letter, “I want our community to be on display and be attractive to potential new hires, and I want to provide a sense of accountability to the alumni that have worked here and gone on to bigger and better things.”  

So here we are.

Today, I wanted to write on one of our more curious of the 5 Ps within our management framework: Protectionism.

Last summer while we were debriefing the year that was and preparing for the year ahead, former General Manager of Charity Electric Jonathan Horvatin said, “I want a nationalistic CE.”

What I heard was, he wanted CE to go national, and so I wrote that down. Thankfully, he clarified what he said and the result was both astonishing and brilliant.

Nationalism, as an ideology, is generally popular with the Donald Trumps of the world—those promoting “America First” and other xenophobic or jingoistic behaviour—but it has its merits. It’s trying to unify a group around a central identity and defend the weakest of the group from the strongest of the outsiders.

Talk to any politician who espouses nationalism and they’ll be promoting hand in hand the concept of protectionism. The purpose of protectionism is to protect the most vulnerable locals who would otherwise be overwhelmed by global forces and to ensure that those elsewhere don’t reap unfair advantages from the efforts forged by the locals.

And while identity can be used for malicious purposes, with identity forms a clarity of purpose.

Protectionism forces clarity. It requires an ongoing study of where your boundaries end and another’s begins. If procreation is pursuing the unknown frontier, protectionism is understanding its borders.

In the same way some of us can suffer from codependency, our little conglomerate was forming unhealthy dependencies as well. We all work together, and it’s generally good to have a sense of mutual obligation to support one another; however, we must understand the difference between healthy interdependence and unhealthy codependence.

In a nutshell, our management framework has a pillar dedicated to understanding how our actions affect others.

A colleague recently said to me, quite frankly, that not all change here has been good. I would affirm that statement wholeheartedly. I’ve had serious missteps, often acted without full clarity, or moved forward without a deep understanding of how it would affect others.

Entrepreneurialism is at the core of Benifactor. Each summer we’ll be launching a new business with five already in our portfolio. Next month I hope to share with you our next business along with discussing our fifth P: Procreation.  

But it’s this counterbalance to unbridled entrepreneurship that I’m most thankful for. Progress comes at a cost. If those costs can be mitigated through increased clarity and communication, then I think our organization will benefit immensely.

We generally see more success as a collective or, as a friend recently said:

“you can only jump so high on a trampoline alone, you need others to double bounce each other to greatness”.

Frontier, Charity Electric, Good Marketers Group, Glass Register, and Capstone can achieve more as an ohana. And to quote Lilo Pelekai, “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”

However, what family tends to lack is biodiversity. Too similar and a single virus can wipe everyone out.

In our case, we’re working to emphasize our differences so as to avoid a black swan event. If Frontier loses a key client, it shouldn’t correlate to significant losses within Charity Electric or Glass Register. They shouldn’t also be pursuing the same contracts.

On a broader level, Benifactor’s next business can’t be a marketing agency as hiring “Good Marketers” is reaching deep within a shallow pool. And as great as Victoria is, we need to forge out to Calgary and beyond to avoid growing our roots too deeply within a single location.

The culture I’ve grown up in, and continue to flourish in, praises the new as a virtue. My desire with Benifactor is to celebrate the benefits of innovation and entrepreneurship while respecting and affirming the emerging and the established. There is a vulnerability in announcing this desire so publicly, but I hope the additional accountability further ensures it lives out within our organization.

Reporting our 18/19 Second Quarter Results

Dear Reader,


We’ve made it through half our fiscal year. And what a half it’s been! We’ve posted revenue of $1.6 million for the first half of the year and are on pace to have revenue just shy of $3 million for the year.   


Six months in to our new budgetary process exposes us to the educated guesses made last summer. Happy surprises have happened.  I didn’t anticipate with much precision the timing of Frontier’s client growth, or that Good Marketers Group would be so far along with its recruitment services.


But also there’s the inevitable hidden obstacles to a productive year. I didn’t anticipate the loss of key staff members, our struggles to secure grant-revenue for clients, or Charity Electric and Capstone both missing quarterly revenue targets.   


Having a budget is one thing, choosing how you use it is another. As a year progresses you’re challenged to fit reality into a static budget, or choose to adapt it according to the shifting landscape. We’ve chosen the latter.


As each quarter closes, we adjust our upcoming quarterly budgets. There’s a shared vision of what makes for a successful year, but a good budget shouldn’t be inflexible to circumstance.


And so, we end the second quarter and begin the third. The third quarter of our year is defined as a time of discipline. Before the entrepreneurial fires can burn hot with the summer sun we need to tread carefully through the dark winter.


For the last two years I have not managed this quarter well. This time last year Shift Agency was quickly losing clients, eventually leading to an end of March shut down. Charity Electric had taken on additional overhead while losing an anchor client, and Frontier was beginning a reorganization internally dubbed, “the staffening”.


Each of the two years I’ve lost a senior leader during this period and I directly attribute it to the over-ambitious growth plans we’ve had in the spring while the organization is most fragile.

These painful lessons have taught me that our operations are highly seasonal and a mistimed or excessive investment in growth can expose us to harm if other operations underperform.


The lessons of the past have taught me not to start anything new until Summer and I’m currently learning more advanced principles within that rule. For instance, I neglected to allocate budget whatsoever to the start up costs of that summer venture in quarter four. Another lesson learned.


And now, here’s some numbers about the recently completed quarter.


For our fiscal 2018/2019 second quarter the company posted quarterly revenue of $871 thousand, an increase from $856 thousand the year-ago quarter. Large numbers, but remarkably similar. And, as similar as a year ago was, two years ago is different, with revenue of $461k representing an increase of 89% over two years.


I expected to cross the $800 thousand mark for revenue but was pleasantly surprised to see the growth in revenue considering Frontier’s efforts to front-load their fall fundraising work. The Frontier team continues to perform above expectations.


As I mentioned in the last update our focus is on net cash flow. We generated net cash increase of $118 thousand last quarter and expected this quarter to be negative.  Well, we managed to post -$24 thousand this quarter, a 70% improvement over the year-ago quarter.


The quarterly goal of keeping the low from getting too low was by and large a success. Next year I hope we can have both quarters be net positive. In order to do this we’ll need a strong performance from Charity Electric and Capstone who both struggled to match quarterly revenue expectations.

Some other highlights:

  • Glass Register’s revenue is up 42% from the year-ago quarter

  • Frontier spent $150 thousand on people this quarter

  • Charity Electric last 12 months revenue have grown 35% over the previous period

  • Good Marketers recruitment revenue exceeded $10,000 in revenue this quarter

  • Capstone has begun working with its fourth client

If you have any questions or comments based on this letter, feel free to email me at ben@benifactor.com.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO