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.
Benjamin Johnson, CEO