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

Dear Reader, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Same old shit, different day”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sincerely,

Benjamin Johnson, CEO