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


Reporting our 2018 First Quarter Results

Dear Reader,

Today marks a first. Since beginning to share these letters publicly I’ve refrained from using cuss words and overly intimate details of my life (two habits of the past), but I also kept currency out of the communication. Now, I attempt to talk publicly about financial performance to a digital community without being legally mandated to do so.

So, why? Transparency is, to me, a universal good. These updates are a means of accountability as a financial steward and small business leader to the community (you). Imagine if more privately-controlled companies disclosed their performance. Perhaps there would be more ethical behaviour as well as a greater financial literacy among communities.

But first, a few words about people and not numbers. Zachary D. Bulick, a friend to many, and loyal employee since fall 2014, has decided to move on. After a sabbatical of 40 days and 40 nights Zach let me know that he was resigning his post as Chief of Staff. Zach has been my right hand man since he blessed Victoria with his presence four years ago. He shaped the vision for our current office, fleshed out our core values, and fostered the growth of our young management team.

When Zach joined Frontier, he transformed us. Nearly five years ago I tried to share a vision of where Frontier was going with him, but the strange feelings I had to combat were that the vision I had was conditional on having a people and thought leader like him join to make it a reality. I literally changed our name when he joined (from Frontier Consulting to Frontier Marketing Co) and moved offices to suit the leap we’d made having him entrust a period of his career to us (we moved into a space literally ten times bigger).

In one’s entrepreneurial journey many faces will come and go, but few people truly leave their fingerprints everywhere the way Zach has. Zach’s powerful empathy and grasp of intentional design-mind is embedded in our culture. Each new employee receives a Birkman report, and therefore an advanced knowledge of their work style and needs, thanks to him. Our office has a cheap and cheerful look, not strictly because that’s his style, but thanks to his intense research into spaces and our needs do we have the aesthetic that we do.

I’m going to miss the greatest complimentary leader I’ve ever worked alongside. His departure marks the ending of an era. Our leadership, myself included, is thrust into an arena of greater independence. Zach cheered us on, encouraged us, sat with us when we needed to cry. He leaves as a legacy a leadership team ready for greatness thanks to him. I hope I can make him proud from wherever he chooses to go next.

Okay, numbers time.

For our fiscal 2018 first quarter the company posted quarterly revenue of $738 thousand, an increase of 11% from the year-ago quarter. Two years ago our first quarter revenue sat at a mere $461 thousand, representing an increase of 60% over two years.

While this is a record-breaking first quarter it comes with caveats. Our largest-ever quarter was Q2 last year and management at Frontier has been actively working to front-load as much of their fall fundraising as possible. Mission accomplished I say.

I’m expecting a $800 thousand second quarter which would be a record, so stay tuned.

Our focus will be on net cash flow, as opposed to profit and loss, not simply to avoid profitability discussions but simply because our highly seasonal and growth-oriented operations distort profit and create a highly challenging cash management environment. If I’m starting to age after a lifetime of boyish looks, it’s because of cash flow.

We generated net cash increase of $118 thousand this quarter, compared to $62 thousand for the year-ago quarter and, for perspective, -$81 thousand the previous quarter. It’s been quite an up and down journey.

The second quarter has always been a negative cash flow period. My goal is to keep the low from getting too low. One strategy we’ve begun employing, along with front-loading work, is to front-load annual expenses such as insurance, subscriptions, and office expenses. I would estimate we’ve spent about $15 thousand in such expenses in this period that would otherwise be at various times throughout the year.

Some other highlights:

  • 73% of operating expense are on people (employees and contractors)

  • After free rent for the first 18 months we’ll be finally paying rent in Q2

  • Glass Register’s revenue is up 35% from the year-ago quarter

  • Capstone’s revenue is over $10,000, its second quarter of operations

  • Good Marketer’s earned its first revenue from recruitment services

  • Charity Electric increased service revenue two fold compared to two years ago

  • Frontier (now 8 years old!) has also doubled service revenue compared to two years ago

Since this is the first of these types of updates, and I hope to do them each quarter, I welcome feedback and questions. Shoot me an email at ben@benifactor.com if anything struck you.


Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

We're Looking For an Office Manager

It’s been a season of change at Benifactor and a new opening has emerged for the right person to join the team and help take our crew to the next level. We’re in no rush to fill the role, simply looking for you!

About Us

Benifactor Capital exists to be a home for entrepreneurial leaders to co-create and manage great organizations. Eight years ago we launched Frontier Marketing Company, and since have launched several other great businesses. At our core is a group of outstanding General Managers that the ‘B team’ (the CEO, you and some advisors) finds and equips primarily through culture and capital. There’s about 20 of us, mostly marketers, mostly serving charities. We’re mostly a group of millennials, that like to help organizations that do good, be great. Our annual revenue from our five + companies is ~$3 Million (and you get to help oversee it).

About You

You are bright, enthusiastic and have a nice balance of personal accountability, flexibility, collaboration and humour. You are a self professed organization guru with an outstanding attention to detail. Anticipating needs is a prized skill of yours. You’re ready to help with any and all little things to keep our team running at their best.

The Gig

You’ll work directly with Benifactor’s CEO, Ben, to keep Benifactor and our companies running behind the scenes. You’ll also bring your own personality to the team to help our culture thrive.

Major Responsibilities You would’ve done recently

  • Answer slack messages, text messages, gmail, phone calls, and shouts from across the room.

  • Take ownership of the physical office’s appearance when it got to messy, turned on the Sonos, and contributed to culture with your presence.

  • Assist the CEO with his project of the month (order party supplies, research policies say).

  • Upon discovering the toilets were clogged, call the plumbers, find a mop and clean.

  • When one of our key employees brings her dog to work, give him a walk around the block.

  • Maintaining rental Google sheets, HR and how-to Google docs, to keep our process on point.

  • Assist in preparing for meetings with people like our Executive Coach.

  • Order office supplies, coffee, snacks, macarons, flowers, etc. to keep our culture kick ass.

  • Take pictures of meals expenses and send to our book keeper, forward invoices sent to us each month.

  • Light up our credit card paying contractors on-time.

  • Plan or coordinate team events and seasonal decorating to bring joy to our day to day.

  • Welcome the UPS guy, potential new hires, and random lady looking for CBC radio.

  • Read books on the Birkman and Enneagram to further psychoanalyze fellow employees.

  • Any other tasks as needed. You might as well be called Random Task (bonus: you get the reference).

Must Haves

You:  Don’t take no crap from nobody, self-starter, intuitive thinker, detail oriented and flexible.

More details

20-32 hours a week at $18-28/hour (ranging from “I’m new to this but this is a job I can crush” to “I’ll own this career”) with a flexible schedule. For more information, email ben@benifactor.com.

October 2018

Dear Colleagues,


Welcome to the new format!

Our community is getting broader, and I want to make sure you can share these updates with anyone in your world. I want our community to be on display and 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.

It’s on that note that I’d like to focus this monthly letter, on coming and going. But first, I want to share a few of the things on my plate.

As many of you know, I’m temporarily the Office Assistant as well as Chief of Staff. I am counting down the days to the end of October and eagerly await Zach’s return from sabbatical. In the meantime I’m working hard to make up for the absence of those two positions. I’ve asked Dave to up his hours, and I am ever so thankful for all of the leaders within Benifactor that have contributed their energy to making this busy time run smoothly.

It’s also times like these that I’m thankful for the hospitality jobs I worked when I was younger. In the last two weeks it’s been a joy to serve - from plunging toilets and mopping floors, to walking dogs and hunting for invoices. Whatever it takes to help organizations that do good, be great.

When I do get a moment to be CEO, my focus has been on culture and compensation. The beauty of the 5 Ps (our new management framework), and Dave’s excellent administration of our finances, is that I can look away from the Profit & Loss Statement and trust that our General Managers have taken responsibility for our year ahead so I can look further into the future.

On the note of culture, I had the task this last month of off-boarding two employees. It was nauseating. We have a checklist but I think we might have cribbed it from a local corrections facility. Do I ask for their keys or hope they remember to give them to me? Will they stay friends with me, or others here? How do we speak of them in the weeks ahead? How will our community adapt?

I’ve long emphasized the value of great client and employee on-boarding. A great courtship does wonders for sustaining a great relationship. But, there’s one fear I’ve avoided confronting in my personal life that has reared itself in Benifactor, saying good bye. I’m the worst with break ups, with losing loved ones, and with friends leaving.

Well folks, in the spirit of growth it’s time to change that pattern. What would it look like if we were really really good at off-boarding?

In the context of a client relationship, they’d be way more likely to remember their time fondly and recommend other clients to our organizations. Maybe when they found themselves needing our services again they’d come back instead of seeking out a competitor.

In the context of an employee relationship, not only would the time be remembered more fondly, a new bond could be formed. Maybe they’d become a great contractor as many of you have. Maybe a referrer of future clients and employees? Our community would grow stronger, wider, more valuable for every person that left.

So under the Process P I’ve added “establish excellent off-boarding”. If you’ve got any ideas how we can help people leave gracefully let me know. Should we send some Chimp credits their way? Let them throw a dodgeball at me with my arms tied? The more ideas the merrier.

Shifting gears, a small update on Glass Register. While we’ve continued to discern whether GR is best in the Benifactor family or not, Heath has agreed to be the interim GM, dedicating all but the tiniest portion of his hours to its needs. He’ll be doing so until the end of Q3 2019 at which point he’ll solely act as a Benifactor “B Team” adviser. If you or anyone you know want to lead Glass Register in the future let me know (job requirements: have a desire and vision to lead its growth and an understanding of how your skills contribute to that vision).

Another area of culture I’ve been mulling over is parties. Our parties, since we’ve moved to Pandora’s box, have been lame. The lighting feels like an office, the layout is awkward, and, aside from sipping alcohol, making small talk, and getting sick from small children, there isn’t much to do. It’s also very private like my letters have been. As great as it’s been to meet spouses, what about former and potential employees? We need to party with our community.

When Good Marketers Group hosted trivia night I noticed three things: the venue suited what we were doing, we were among friends, and a client got to benefit ($1k for Island Prostate Centre). Win, win, win.

This leads me to our next party - celebrating the 8th birthday of Frontier. The Frontier crew will soon be engaging in their 8th match campaign with Union Gospel Mission to raise like a million bucks, and that too is worth celebrating. Frontier culture is unique, and one area as marketers that’s even more unique is Thanksgiving! The Frontier team helps their clients raise millions over that campaign period. Added to that, the UGM Match campaign is during the week of US Thanksgiving. Americans do thanksgiving really well. Football on the TV, friends and family gathered. That sounds like a great time to party.

All that to say, save the date! November 30th will be an evening of celebrating - a Frontier Feast. There’ll be tickets for sale with 100% of the proceeds going towards a charity of Mariam’s choice. If you have any desires for that night let me know. I’m both incredibly nervous and excited for that night.

Finally, on the note of compensation, I’ve noticed that our Benifactor Human Resources Manual could use some love (it’s been in draft since May 2017). It’s now within my to-do’s to get that done. More importantly, I’ve asked the Senior Leadership of Benifactor to be the guiding group around compensation. Collectively I hope we can create more benefits for our people.

In the months ahead expect more updates around that HR resources manual but for now here’s one update - every 4 years at Benifactor you get another 4 days (our equivelant of a week) of vacation. I’ll be crossing 8 years next month and Nick, Sophie and Mariam will soon be turning 4. I can’t wait to celebrate these milestones ahead!

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO

PS - next month is my quarterly update where I’ll be focusing on the Profitability P.

PPS - One day school I look forward to telling you about something in the works called B School.

2018 Annual End Of Year Letter

July 12, 2018

 

Dear Colleagues,

Well, it’s the end of an era. Folks may come and go in this tribe of ours called Benifactor, but few make a mark. Anna King (née Li) is an OG Frontierswoman and the mark she’ll leave is carved in hearts and a heavenly kingdom.

In October 2013, before some of you were adults, I reached out to my part-time Frontier/Part-time UGM colleague Derek Weiss about Anna Li.

To Derek: “Randomly, would it be a big win if we hired on Anna Li?”

Reply : “My impression of Anna is that she's a star when it comes to getting things done. [...] Personally, she's a breeze to work with. [...] All and all, I would recommend her as an FC addition.”

I had heard from Josh Wilton, Pastor and now board member, that a dude in his congregation was getting serious with a girl in Vancouver and either needed to find a job in the same city to keep it moving forward. He asked if I knew any fundraising jobs in Victoria which lead me to finding out the girl was Anna.

By December Anna was contracting for Frontier, and by Spring in Victoria. At her wedding Matthew, Ellie and I filled the back seats and snuck out early to get milkshakes. To this day Ellie thinks Anna’s a celebrity because of how amazing that wedding dress was (I think).

Seeing people go is tough for me. I’ve had a tendency to make things work out for too long and both feared the calluses of cutting people and the pain of seeing people pass on. Those tendencies haven’t done anyone favours; however, I’ve also seen the blessings that come for those who move on and for our community as well.

So, to pull a quote from one of my favourite doctors: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” - Seuss

Many months ago our leadership team discussed the question whether we are a sports team or a family. Life here can often feel familial but in the end we’re a high performing sports team. We make tough roster decisions, employees get signed elsewhere and, at the end of the day, we choose our players.  It’s lead me to define two driving principles for Benifactor:

  • Draft and Develop

  • Ships for Captains

D&D refers to our philosophy of creating our players. Silvana and Tina are two shining examples of employees who’ve found their roots as apprentices and many of our leaders have started as contractors and grown from junior positions. Free agency works well in some sports (baseball) and poorly in others (football). Hiring for above entry-level positions has been selectively successful for us and only when we seek out the specific person (as contrasted to posting and hiring a stranger). Our culture matters too much, our system too refined, to let someone who isn’t prepared to be humbled enter our tribe.

S4C refers to the need to give emerging leaders a home. Mariam, Francis and Stephanie currently captain our three ships, but I see emerging leaders here and those people need to know they don’t have to wait for Mariam to get dysentery before they get a chance to lead. That’s why, as part of our 5 P’s Zach laid out we have procreation. Each year Benifactor will launch a new organization and make it clear there’s something in the shipyard waiting for the next leader to earn their stripes.

For Act II of this long letter, I wanted to discuss how we measure progress and reflect on the past.

As some of you may recall, I set a goal recently of losing 9 lbs before facing off in one of the highlight events of my year, the Island Summer Games. Well, I didn’t quite get there. See, the thing is, I made a dumb mistake (a few really, but one key one for the purposes of this letter) - I had mostly been gaining weight due to increased strength training and wanted to crush it at ISG by continuing to get stronger AND lose weight. My fitness goal, using a basic measurement of body weight didn’t accurately reflect what I wanted to do.

In the end I lost a little over 4 lbs but also a couple inches off my waist. And, while I didn’t drink any beer as promised, I succumbed to peer pressure from my temporary room mate and learned to enjoy spirits more than ever before. Since then I’ve abandoned the weigh scale and use a tape measure for my waist and observe the reactions of opposing dodgeball players as I heave balls at them.

I also decided it was bad form for an organization like ours to use charitable giving as a losing scenario, and so I found five organizations to give $100 each to (Dandelion Society, Island Prostate Centre, The Cridge Centre, Mustard Seed, and Metroball).

Similarly, Benifactor over the last year has had a singular profit goal that didn’t accurately measure the plan for the organization. We wanted to both expand and increase our working capital. Two years of running this organization have taught me the unique challenges a continually growing organization has.

This year while we’ve grown revenue by over $1 million year over year, but we’ve also grown expenses by over $1 million and will end the year with a loss before depreciation.  By that account it’s been a failure, but we’ve otherwise achieved what we set out to do (see goals at the end). Next year will be about more broad measurements of success (the 5 P’s) as well as more calculated expansion.

Which brings me to Act III of this annual chronicle to a cautionary tale on the inherent negativity with the past and the need for continual gratitude for our current state.

Back in December I posted on Instagram the following: Good strategic and entrepreneurial skills are built off an inherent dissatisfaction with the current state and a sustained focus on the future and the past.  

While I feel blessed with some entrepreneurial and strategic insights I also know I’ve equally cursed myself with an ignorance for living in the moment. People who don’t stop to smell the flowers tend to not even realize what season it is.

At Benifactor it’s quite possible to be working on Christmas campaign materials before the first pumpkin spice latte has been sipped. I’ve spent the last two months trying to forecast summer 2019. It’s very weird.

I’ve also heard a lot of pejorative comments when we look at our past, be it a past project, a person, or a process. Well, get used to today being significantly better than the other day because that’s what a continually improving organization looks like.

Frontier started 8 summers ago by a 24 year old with less than two years experience in fundraising. It was reverse engineered every step of the way because I had no idea how agencies get work done, how much they should charge, or how clients are acquired. Not to mention I’m colour blind.

Our old office fit 2-3 people and seemed just fine. When we moved to our third office, fitting 4-6 people, it felt like heaven. It was rough around the edges to say the least but at least we could fit a client visit if it was needed. We’ve moved offices a couple times since and continue to refine our workspace. Journeys have different phases, and ours have often been defined by our physical environments.  

Charity Electric started 3 summers ago as an excuse to take on projects that weren’t within the scope of Frontier’s increasingly refined service offering. It earned $2,750 in 2015. In the last twelve months it’s charged $256,870 to an increasingly diverse clientele. It’s true birth began when Jonathan started working out of my living room 2 winters ago.

Benifactor Capital started 2 summers ago after time spent with an executive coach asking the question, “what next”. While only partially formed at the time, it set us in motion to be an organization finding talented individuals, grooming leaders, and building great organizations to serve other organizations to help them be great too. It also started without, er, capital.

Good Markers Group started 1 summer ago after the sudden demise of Cercle Marketing. In the year prior I had been organizing occasional gatherings of “good marketers”, people who I considered a good marketer - doing cause/good marketing, who many but not all strongly identified themselves by their faith. Over time the goal was to build a program that shared our school of thought and increased the supply of good marketers as many of our clients struggle to find and retain people like us.

While Stephanie was left without a ship to captain, I set about pushing one through the shipyard. While that ultimately crashed our budget dreams, it’s given us another strong organization with three great strengths: unique revenue in grants,  an alternative to contractors, and an incubation chamber for fostering emerging talent.

There’s been a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. Anna is passing on to other adventures, I have calluses from the cuts in the spring, and I’ve completely avoided talking about Shift Agency.

But, I smile because it happened - because you made it happen. And looking forward:

  • This summer we will launch Capstone, an organization dedicated to major giving consulting.

  • We’ll be seeking a General Manager for Glass Register.

  • We continue to have interest in a business marketing organization should the appropriate leader want to take the helm.

  • Frontier will continue to mature and earn over $2 million in revenue while Charity Electric enters its first year as a mature self-guided organization.  

  • Hopefully we can convert Good Marketers Group into a non-profit society.

  • And finally, we’ll be seeking to earn a good profit.

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, but also for the time when I can look back at 2018 as a time long ago.
 

Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson

CEO

 

PS - The following is our annual goals for 17/18 and 18/19.

 

2017-2018 Strategic Goals

  • Build Benifactor’s corporate culture to help our community be at its best and its people to live meaningful and enriching vocations.

  • Support Frontier, Shift, and Charity Electric as they mature into self-sufficient enterprises.

  • Expand Glass Register, seek partners and alliances, and begin to license to charities unaffiliated with Frontier.

  • Establish Good Marketers Group as a leading apprenticeship program for emerging talent and an impactful contributor to the Benifactor mosaic.

  • Settle into our new space and learn ways to optimize the environment we’re now stewards of.

  • Increase Benifactor’s working capital.

 

2018-2019 Strategic Goals

  • $100k profit before depreciation.

  • Increase Benifactor’s working capital with retained earnings and create plan to grow equity (via stock options plan etc).

  • Support Frontier and Charity Electric with quality clients via CDO.

  • Expand Glass Register, seek General Manager, find partners, and begin to license to implementers unaffiliated with Benifactor.

  • Adjust Good Marketers Group to a non-profit society and reduce net cost.

  • Support organization managers to become autonomous culture-exuding leaders (Benifactor, get out of the way!).

  • Establish “Capstone” major giving consulting via CDO.

  • Expand Charity Electric (and Frontier) product offering with grant-writing.

  • Establish business marketing organization with appropriate General Manager.

  • Develop long-term vision for board of directors.