July 12, 2018
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.
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.