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, 

60514995_10161889721530644_4494941733510971392_n.jpg

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. 

1923931_72485655614_128_n.jpg

“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. 

Business-and-Funding-Lifecycles1.jpg

“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. 

Screen+Shot+2019-07-02+at+11.31.26+AM.jpg

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.

Powerful Women of Benifactor.jpg

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

January 2019

It’s January, and the sports gods have blessed me with another year of Patriots magic. 17 years ago, I became a fan of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. In the intervening years, I marvelled at their ability to sustain success in an era of unprecedented parity and move forward when key players have left. Hate them or love them, there may never be a team like this ever again.

For those of you that don’t know, the key to the Patriots’ success can be summed up in this quote from Rob Gronkowski this weekend:

“I've just been fighting all year long so when situations come like this I'm ready to go and ready to make some plays. So whatever coaches ask me to do I'm always down to try my best and give it my all."

The system that’s lead one team to nine Super Bowls in the last 17 years has a very particular understanding of talent and effort. It understands that each person can’t give their everything all the time, nor do they have skills for every situation or task. But for every person there’s a situation or a skill that, when they give it their all, they can achieve collective greatness.

Speaking of teams, as promised last month, I now have the opportunity to gush about mine. The cast of characters may have changed since my first season of entrepreneurship, and there are days I miss some of those people dearly, but I am always in awe of the brilliance that is Benficator’s greatest asset—its people.

I have the honour of being the face of our team’s success on many occasions and it’s an embarrassingly lucky privilege. 24 year old Ben gets more than his share of credit for starting Frontier. And while praise for achievement is great, especially if you’re type 3 in the enneagram, it crosses the line when the work of others is ignored or taken for granted. For every achievement we make in life there’s always a team.


If it weren’t for the sacrifices my mum made, I couldn’t possibly have finished my degree at 20.

If it weren’t for the trust that people like Don Manning, Genesa Greening or Chris Mah placed in me, Frontier wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

If it weren’t for the risks that Heath Johns, Luke Taylor, Derek Weiss, Emily Cheevers and Blythe Kingcroft took in joining forces with me, Frontier would be a solo consulting business.

No one said it better than fellow 3 on the enneagram Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“So how can I ever claim to be self-made? To accept that mantle discounts every person and every piece of advice that got me here. And it gives the wrong impression — that you can do it alone.

I couldn’t. And odds are, you can’t either.”

There’s always a team.

Our 5 Ps, the management framework for annual planning begins with People. Examples of items within this pillar include defining the roles and responsibilities of team members, or hiring new talent. This framework ensures that people remain a top priority, along with Profit and Process, areas I’ve spoken about in the past, and Protectionism and Procreation, which I’ll speak on in the near future.

Recently, we’ve had the joy of celebrating two people that have worked for Frontier for four years now, Sophie Wooding and Nick Tassell. They’ve poured their vocational souls into the production efforts of Frontier’s fundraising machine and emerged as soft-spoken leaders.

I remember their initial interviews and months vividly and am honoured to have seen them grow to become the core of Frontier’s latest team.

Nick’s puns are just a small glimpse at his insightfulness. His skill at seeing improvements to production have led Frontier into a period of unprecedented production excellence.

And Sophie, the most efficient employee I’ve ever witnessed, contributes as a leader with quiet determination. She’s taken hold of Frontier’s print production with an open-mind to continuous learning that I hope forces Frontier to keep up with her voracious aptitude.

The least we can do is give these two an extra week off.

Meanwhile, we have what seems like a tie for rookie of the year. Matt “my work son” Hussey and Innes “the bloke from Bristol” Purdue have just completed a year’s employment and I haven’t seen better rookie seasons since we drafted Mariam Ghani in the spring of 2015.

Matt’s optimism and hustle, along with his organization and communication, make him one of Frontier’s luckiest hires ever.

I look forward to seeing the growth in him and, by extension, Frontier’s client success.

Innes joined last year to be a sidecar edition to Jonathan Horvatin’s then-solo ride at Charity Electric. It didn’t take long for Innes to grow out of his initial role and become the most insightful person I’ve ever worked with. I always look forward to my meetings with him, which I’ve dubbed Insights with Innes.

As our team is getting older and beginning to grow their own humans, we’re finally at a stage where we can support our team while they raise our future Good Marketer’s apprentices.

There’s been some mums and dads to work here, but none we want back more than Silvana Allendes, our first-ever Good Marketer apprentice, now Digital Marketing Assistant at Frontier and soon-to-be proud mum.

All that to say, I’m happy to announce we have started a 10 month, $500 per month, parental leave stipend to pitch in while Silvana and future parents focus on what matters most.

Lastly, we’ve added another tier to our Health Spending Accounts for managers and turned it into a Health Wellness Account where they can not only pay to get their teeth polished, but also get dodgeball fees reimbursed as a taxable benefit. Dreams do come true.

If you know anything about small business and entrepreneurship, you know how good it feels to be able to add benefits like these. I feel so freaking lucky that we can continuously improve our ability to use capital to reinforce culture.

December 2018


Dear Reader,

I’d intended on writing this month’s update from my hometown of Calgary, having connected with Chris Primeau, the interim General Manager of Capstone, but instead, I’m on my couch typing this letter with the flu.

Whenever I’m feeling ill and have to power through, I remember Michael Jordan’s 1997 NBA finals performance, dubbed “the flu game” and like every kid of my generation, I want to be like Mike, so here we are.  

A few weeks ago we had our Frontier Feast, celebrating 8 years of business, and it was amazing. A special thanks to Stephanie Meine, aka “Outside Steph,” who poured her heart and soul into the event. 30 people gathered for the first-ever celebration of Frontier. This process of celebration is fairly new for us, but boy did we get off to a great start.

On top of that fun, we raised $540 for one of our oldest clients, the Dandelion Society (matched by Benifactor to $1080) as guests had to RSVP with a donation. Well done everyone!

We’ve now entered the winter months at Benifactor, and based on what we’ve learned about the cycle of growth, I’m using the phrase “Don’t Invade Russia in the Winter” to remind our team (mostly me) not to start anything new until the summer. Until spring has sprung everything new is an idea that deserves refinement and not action.

By starting something new in the summer, we allow for it to patiently grow while our other organizations are in full bloom. Then, in the final half of the year, when the other organizations are at their weakest, the new venture should be starting to bloom and be contributing to the whole.

That’s the hope we have in Capstone Fundraising, our newest venture. One year ago today, I sat down with Chris and we mapped out the basics of what him joining the team would look like - with Chris on board, Benifactor would operate out of Calgary as well as Victoria. Although it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had a remote team member, Chris joining our company entailed something bigger than that. And now here we are!

Capstone has a brand, a purpose, and initial processes. Chris and the other GMs have worked hard to establish Protectionism — our term for making sure that there’s interdependence but not co-dependence — and I can already see the efforts beginning to bear fruit. Which leads to me to a very Benifactor worldview.

Profitability without Process is just a paycheque.

[I wanted to say prostitution, but that seemed too crass]

Frontier is, by and large, a well-oiled machine. Its processes are continually refined and growth has been constant over the last eight years with little to no biz dev. It’s a fairly predictable organization because of the constant focus on processes instead of immediate return.

Unfortunately, in recent years that wasn’t our focus with Charity Electric. Our efforts to establish process were weak, and the services performed ended up inconsistent. Colleagues who’d trusted the Frontier brand and were willing to place their faith in Charity Electric were often unsatisfied with their experience.

In the end, Charity Electric’s third year of operations saw a lot of growth and impressive profitability, but it wasn’t sustainable. Processes weren’t documented, making the next project as difficult as the last, and errors highly likely to occur (and they did).

I’m proud to say that Francis’ team is now making great strides to focus first and foremost on process rather than profit. It’s not sexy, but it serves the whole instead of the individual. In fact, it can take years before great process takes full effect and the fruit of its labour can be completely seen.

Similarly, we’re asking Capstone and Good Marketers Group (in year two but still establishing itself), to continue to prioritize building processes, as well as hitting budget goals.

Before long, we’ll be celebrating 8 years of growth for Charity Electric, Glass Register, Good Marketers Group, and Capstone, and it will be their focus on effective processes that helped them reach such a coveted milestone.

This month, I decided to focus on talking a little bit about one of our five P’s, “Process”. Next month is “People”. Namely, I look forward to gushing about a few people who have passed their four years of employment, and changes we’re making to benefits and parental leave. In the meantime, I wanted to leave you all with an excerpt from a speech Theodore Roosevelt wrote.

It turns out the ‘other’ basketball G.O.A.T, Lebron James, recites this speech before each game. I looked into it and believe it’s a helpful mantra for anyone embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. It’s a reminder to anyone who needs to tune out the naysayers or look beyond their imperfections while engaging on a brave new journey. And I hope the gendered language doesn’t take away from its great message:

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO