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BFC Digital: A Visionary Blend of Purpose, Innovation, and Social Impact With Ben Freda

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Introduction

In this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Chad Franzen of Rise25 flips the script to interview Ben Freda, Founder and President of BFC Digital, about his company’s purpose and mission. Ben shares what influenced him to start BFC Digital and his new podcast, how his company stands out from the competition, and his passion for supporting nonprofit organizations.

Today's Guest
Ben Freda

Ben Freda

Ben Freda is the Founder and President of BFC Digital, a boutique web development company dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations with their information technology and service needs. In his role, he provides team support for coding, design, strategy, integration, and web technology solutions. Although Ben brings over 20 years of web technology experience, his career path started in the classroom of Stanford University, where he studied computer science and managed a website startup. Ben later enrolled at Columbia Law School, earning his JD and practicing corporate law. In 2010, he left the legal field to start BFC.

Ben Freda
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Ben Freda shares his career background and how he started BFC Digital
  • What attracts Ben to help nonprofit organizations?
  • How Ben’s upbringing influenced his entrepreneurial journey
  • Ben identifies why BFC Digital stands out from the competition
  • Nonprofit versus for-profit organizations
  • Why Ben decided to start a podcast

In this episode…

At the heart of BFC Digital is a vision brought to life by Ben Freda. Influenced by a desire to make a meaningful impact in the digital realm, Ben founded the company with a clear mission.

From innovative approaches to client engagement and cutting-edge strategies, the company offers unique and tailored digital solutions. Ben Freda’s insights provide a glimpse into the mindset that fuels BFC Digital’s success in a dynamic and evolving industry. Beyond business success, he expresses his profound passion for supporting nonprofit organizations. BFC Digital goes beyond the conventional role of a digital agency by actively engaging in initiatives that contribute to social impact. From the company’s inception to its unique positioning in the digital landscape, Ben’s journey with BFC Digital encapsulates a blend of purpose, innovation, and social impact.

In this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Chad Franzen of Rise25 flips the script to interview Ben Freda, Founder and President of BFC Digital, about his company’s purpose and mission. Ben shares what influenced him to start BFC Digital and his new podcast, how his company stands out from the competition, and his passion for supporting nonprofit organizations.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit bfcdigital.com, email us at info@bfcdigtal.com, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:06

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive, a podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda 0:23

Welcome! I’m Ben Freda, host of the show, where we share the stories of leaders in the nonprofit space, the people behind the organizations, foundations and companies that help nonprofits change the world. This podcast brought to you by BFC digital BFC digital, we help nonprofits thrive on the web. If you’re a nonprofit communication staff member responsible for your organization’s web presence, I’m sure you know that having an effective web presence can be an absolute game changer for your ability to change the world and accomplish your mission. You probably also know how frustrating and difficult and weird running a web presence can be. At BFC digital, we help our clients succeed on the web. Without all of that pain. We handle everything from smallest bugs, site maintenance, all the way to strategizing designing, developing new websites, and new web apps. And we do it by being friendly, being human, and without ever asking you to fill out a support ticket. Say goodbye to support tickets forever. So go to BFCdigital.com/podcast to get more information, schedule a free consultation. And if we do end up working together, if you sign up there, you’ll get 50% off your first month of us working together. So today on the show, I have Chad Franzen here of Rise25, who has done 1000s of interviews with successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. So today’s special for our first episode, he will be interviewing me, we are flipping the script. Chad, welcome to the show.

Chad Franzen 1:57

Hey, thanks so much, Ben. Great to be here. How are you?

Ben Freda 1:59

I’m good. I’m psyched to this is the first podcast I’ve ever done. So I’m glad to be doing it with you. Yeah, I’m excited. 

Chad Franzen 2:06

Yeah, I’m looking forward to talking to you. Hey, just so we can get myself and all of your listeners familiar. Why don’t we talk about you and your background, and what led up to BFC Digital? What were you doing prior to starting the company? And then what led you to start BFC Digital?

Ben Freda 2:23

Yeah, um, so let’s see, it’s kind of a long story I before I started BFC Digital, I actually graduated from college during the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley. And I would say a third of our graduating class quit to do startups. So I was gonna go to law school, that was the plan. But I took a year off to do a technology startup. And it was something I’d never done before. I was just interested in doing it, because everyone else was doing it. But I didn’t know anything about computer science or coding or anything. So I thought, you know, whatever, let’s take a year off before law school starts and just try something new. So I wanted to do a website company, I had a best friend from preschool, actually, who was going to be doing, you know, the marketing side. And he was really interested in car repair, which is kind of bizarre looking back, because I live in New York City don’t own a car. I’ve been in a car and like, you know, three weeks. He was really into that. And so we thought, let’s make a website about car repair. So we spent a year working on a website about car repair. Eventually, it turned into a website where you could comparison shop for car parts. I learned a bunch of technology, how to code all that stuff. He did a bunch of marketing and strategy. And at the end, we were making $1,000 a month, but it cost us $1,100 a month to run the whole thing. So we were losing 100 bucks a month that I ended up being like, oh, okay, well, it’s time to go to law school. So I put that, you know, put that to bed. I thought that was gonna be my only foray in technology. Moved to New York City, went to law school for three years, was a lawyer for two years and just did not love it. It was it was just not a good fit for me. It was the sort of thing where you’re doing a lot of stressful crazy work, work until midnight work until 1am on really boring stuff. That was the problem. It was a great combination of super stressful on super boring stuff, you know, like I’m having to be stressed out and somebody care about you know, work you know, work to the one of the morning if it’s a really great cause or something but I was reading emails written by executives for Citibank about it trying to highlight… it was just horrendously boring. So, I ended up jumping ship after two years and working with a great friend of mine, named Ryan, who runs a shop in DC at the time was called PICnet. Now it’s called Nonprofit Soapbox Engage. It’s kind of reverted what he’s working on now, but worked with him for three years doing web development for nonprofits. It was a great experience. Loved the clients, loved work. 2008 rolled around, hit the company really hard. We closed our New York City office, and I got laid off from that. He’s still going in DC. And I thought, well, maybe I should be a lawyer again. That’s I guess what I should do. You know, I was I was like, I guess I’m going back to that. But I had a couple of clients leftover from that experience, who weren’t working with him anymore and wanted me to do blog posts for 30 bucks an hour. And so I thought, maybe I could turn this into something. So I slowly, eventually, after a couple of months of wrangling about it, decided, look, I really just got to try it. So I ended up getting a few clients to help with very minor sort of web update kind of work. And it sort of grew from there. That was 2010. And then yeah, we since then we’ve started, we’ve done a lot of website development, website design, website maintenance, websites support for great nonprofit clients, most of whom I met back then and sort of met other people and grown into what we are today. It was a long answer. 

Chad Franzen 6:01

That’s a great story. Great story. So you never have second thoughts about not becoming a lawyer?

Ben Freda 6:06

Man, there are certain things you see, like on TV, if you you know, if you see like Law and Order, or you see courtroom drama. I mean, how great would it be to be the person who stands up there? And but the reality is, I mean, when I was a lawyer, no one went to court, nobody went to court, right. Like we were working on settling cases, that was our job. So, I don’t regret leaving that world, the corporate litigation world, you know. I do sometimes in the middle of the night, thank man, it would be great to be doing trials, you know, prosecution, criminal offense, that has to be fascinating, but I think you really need to love that, like, really want to do it to do it well. Because it’s it’s hard, it’s stressful, you really have to, you know, give it your all and it just wasn’t something that I think I was I was going to be in that spot.

Chad Franzen 6:49

So when people go to your website, BFCdigital.com, first thing they see is we help nonprofits thrive and other things on the web. What is it about nonprofits that are so attractive for you to work with? 

Ben Freda 7:01

You know, it’s, it’s interesting, because it is, it’s definitely not what a lot of web development firms focus on. So a lot of what my friends focus on, you know, companies, about business, you get into this thing about traffic, about sales, how to convert, all that kind of stuff. What’s great about nonprofits is that their goals are different, right? Like a lot of nonprofits, honestly, if they were to succeed, they would go out of business, right? Like, we have a client working on climate change, right? If the climate stopped changing, that would be awesome, but they wouldn’t have a job anymore. So it’s different, right? Like, it’s, there’s a lot of times it’s a different goal. And a lot of nonprofits have a lot of different goals. So sometimes nonprofits trying to bring people together, right, bring people together to address a particular issue. Sometimes nonprofits are trying to communicate about advocacy. So trying to change people’s mind about a certain issue. Sometimes, nonprofits are in direct services. So they’re actually trying to literally help people today, like with, you know, income assistance, or food or, or resources, right, like we had a, we had a great client through the New York City schools department. Turns out 10% of kids that go to New York City public schools don’t have a house, don’t have a home, they don’t have a permanent address, because they’re in living in a shelter, or they are migrants or whatever. And so how do you mail home a report card? Right? Like, you can’t do that? How do you get resources, the families when you can’t, you don’t know their address? And so how do you do that? Well, digitally, right, like, that’s how you’re gonna do it. So. So we built in a portal for people to understand that kind of stuff. So there’s a lot of different ways that nonprofits are changing the world online, and it’s a lot more interesting to me personally. Then sort of the classic like, what’s the SEO? How do we change the sales? Can we increase the conversion rate on our shoes or whatever? Not that there’s anything wrong shoe store stores, it’s great, but it’s sort of more of a mathematical question. And for and for these nonprofits, there’s sort of a much more holistic attitude towards what they’re trying to do, which I just find interesting. And I just think it’s fascinating.

Chad Franzen 9:09

Was there was there a experience in your life or your childhood or sometime in your early adult life that kind of inspired you to go in this direction?

Ben Freda 9:17

Yeah, I mean, I grew up in Silicon Valley. So, you know, there were sort of two things that were going on there when I was when I was a kid. One was that we were all environmentalists, and involved in social movements and interested in social change. That’s, that was sort of in the world at the for us. I mean, for for, you know, when I was growing up, at least in the 80s. You know, we would go on field trips to, you know, the state park, and they would teach us, you know, about about development and stuff like that. So I found that interesting when I was growing up. And then also the other thing that was happening was, everybody was part of some sort of entrepreneurial thing, entrepreneurial technological thing. So, you know, we lived in a town that was close to IBM Research Center, you know, Google was there or Apple was there. My dad got married at Steve Wozniak’s house because he knew Steve. Everybody knew everybody. Yeah. And we knew it was, I guess they knew his wife through this preschool thing, anyway. But it was just everybody knew everybody. And so it was just a very, you know, technology-focused area. And so I think when I got older, you know, I was thinking what feels authentic to me to do what feels like I would sort of naturally understand the people in it, you know, technology for, you know, positive change, right, like technology for nonprofits, technology, for environmentalists, technology for social change, that kind of stuff just really felt like pretty natural place to go, I think.

Chad Franzen 10:39

So there are, you know, a lot of web web design companies out there, what, what is the reason that people choose you maybe what’s the big benefit or uniqueness of working with BFC Digital? 

Ben Freda 10:48

So I think the the main reason I think our clients like us is because we’re human to them, I think, uh, so many of our clients have come, we call them refugees have come from experiences with other web developers. And they often have the same complaints where developers are not responsive, right? They don’t get back to them on time, things go way too long. They have, they don’t want to hop on a call and talk about what the challenges are, you know, web developers are very focused on what the scope is of the engagement and not not so much like, Hey, what are we trying to do? So I think the reason people choose us, you know, it’s not, you know, it’s not because we’re the cheapest, it’s not because we’re the whatever. We’re not the biggest, but I think we are probably some of the nicest people in nonprofit technology that you’ll encounter at least that’s what people say, and sort of the most committed to sort of helping, you know, sort of big picture, things get better. So, yeah, so I think that’s probably the answer. 

Chad Franzen 11:44

I used to work for a gym, like a gym, that people could join for a membership. And then I decided to go to the YMCA, you know, a nonprofit. And even though that we did basically the exact same thing as the gym that I used to work for, it was like a completely different world operationally. Have you found that working with nonprofits is maybe different than other, you know, for profit organizations in terms of their operations? 

Ben Freda 12:06

Yeah, totally. It’s really good, too. You know, we’ve had a lot of experiences with nonprofits. And I think a lot of times if people aren’t used to work with nonprofits, it could be, there’s a different pace, right? Often funding works differently. So there will be grants that people are working from, and they need to be applied to certain things. There’s a lot of interest in the nonprofit world and stakeholders. So making sure that the people who are going to be affected by whatever you’re doing a website or a project or web app, have, have a say in what’s what’s going on. And so we’ve had to develop a pretty, you know, a good process for, you know, getting information and understanding what’s going to be built for doing it. So yeah, there’s a lot of sort of unique things that that go into it. I think, the other thing that I think is really good. And I think some people outside the nonprofit space can get frustrated by this, but but there is an interest in making sure that the impact that you’re having is positive. So whether it’s a you know, a diversity set type Initiative, or, or analyzing the effect of what’s what you’re going to do on, you know, the wider world. So for instance, I think AI is a good example, for profits have been pretty quick to pick up AI tools and stuff like that in the nonprofit world. You know, this is just me pontificating, but I do think there’s a little bit of a slower uptake of that kind of stuff, because people are concerned about, you know, are we going to be putting people out of work? Are we what is the effect of AI on the rest of the world? And Israel want to know, before really diving in so and that’s one of the you know, and that kind of stuff is sort of one of the reasons why I’m excited to do a podcast, honestly, is to have conversations with people about, hey, what are we doing and nonprofit tech world? And what is the effect of that going to be? What’s what works? What doesn’t? You know, AI is a good example. And just having those conversations, I think it’s going to be helping you interesting, you know, helpful, useful.

Chad Franzen 13:55

So when a prospective client comes to BFC Digital, I know they’re kind of like two, once they decide to inevitably decide to work with you. There are there are two kind of different directions they could go. Tell me a bit about those.

Ben Freda 14:13

Yeah, so right, we do two things really. One is we help nonprofits with big new website projects or web app projects. And then the other thing is we do ongoing support and maintenance, evolution of existing stuff that is out there. So those are really the two different ways. I think, in general, because of the ways nonprofits are funded, oftentimes, they’re big projects that need to be done from a grant or or on a yearly basis or something. We do like also doing that ongoing stuff. I think that people kind of forget sometimes that they already if they do already have some technology in place, it might make sense to iterate on it slowly, like hey, maybe maybe a new homepage, right, or maybe a new landing page or a new piece of functionality that you can add to what you already have, and sort of do that over time and start To measure the results and think about whether, you know, whether you really want to devote 75 grand, or however much it is into into one big thing, or whether you want to maybe try and chip away more slowly. So, we’ve been focused on really both of those, but trying to ease people a little bit toward the sort of evolution process. You know, I just, I think in general, the more you can learn and get feedback from what you’re putting out there, you know, the better, the less you change less due to, to sort of change paths a little bit decide, hey, maybe we don’t want to have a net, you know, a network member directory on our site, maybe we want to spend that time and energy on on maybe a resource library or better search or what, you know, whatever it is. So yeah, but anyway, those are really the two, the two big things that we can we can help people with.

Chad Franzen 15:45

What are some top questions maybe people have before working with you? 

Ben Freda 15:49

That’s a good question. I mean, there, there are, I’ll tell you, we actually did a YouTube video on this. We had a very short period of time when we did a few YouTube videos. And one of them was about what I wished people asked us. They will often ask us stuff that we, you know, ask whatever you want, this is great. You mean, you know, we want to have an exchange and understand what you were, you know what you’re interested in. But a lot of times, people ask about accessibility, that’s a big topic now. So I do find that, you know, when people ask about accessibility, they just want to know that we are paying attention to it, you know, they’re like, Hey, are you paying attention to accessibility? Yes, we are. And we, everything we do is accessible. And we make things accessible, we know how to do that. And we’re making sure that we, we do that kind of stuff, so so that that’s a big one. One thing people really want to know, is how they’re going to manage it after it’s built, which is a great question to ask. A lot of times people go into a project thanking, you know, I don’t care how you build it, just build it. But but you really don’t want to do that, right? Like, you really want to know that if you’re if you’re a nonprofit, and you’re going to be managing this website, after a while, let’s say it’s a membership hub for your members to go in and, you know, get resources on the annual, you have an annual meeting coming up and there need to grab the agenda and grab things. So, you know, how are you going to put those things up there? Like, is it going to be easy? Is it going to look crazy? When you add three documents instead of two documents? Is it going to look super janky? You know, and how to fix that, and blah, blah, blah, so, so another question people ask and should ask is, how am I going to use this? You know, how is it going to work? Make it make it work? I mean, you know, so those are two of the big ones. And then I think people just want to know that we you know, what, who are your you know, what nonprofits have you worked for or do you do, you know, nonprofit world, you know, is another one? And it’s kind of I don’t know that there are a few but not many development, web development firms that exclusively do nonprofits like us. A lot of times, they will, you know, clients might get proposals from all kinds of web development firms. Some, and there are great web development firms out there that do for profit work, for sure. But you know, you just want to make sure that they’re gonna understand the uniqueness of you know, of that space. Yeah,

Chad Franzen 18:08

sounds good. Sounds good. So what? Let’s get into your podcast a little bit. This is, as we mentioned, this is the first episode. What made you decide to start the podcast?

Ben Freda 18:17

Well, you know, we were, I haven’t never done any marketing at all. We’ve gotten all of our clients through through referrals. Just people we like working for, and I knew in the back of my mind, you know, that’s not the most sustainable thing, but I’ve, and I think this comes up, it comes from growing up near San Fran is just man salesy stuff just drives me crazy. Like I don’t, I could never be a salesman, I could I could never go and be the flashy kind of saying if it makes me afraid, even try doing that. No, it’s not even a salesy kind of environment. You know, we’re working for nonprofits, right. So it’s not really. So it’s a bit of a challenge, like, how are you going to sort of get the word out there without, without, you know, being a dork, you know, I don’t know if I can really say that. But so that was one thing. And then the other thing was, I really felt like personally, you know, I have been head down in working on websites and web apps for nonprofits for a decade. And which has been great. But I do want to start sort of understanding what other people are doing, understanding better what other people are working on what’s working for them, what’s not working for them, what we should be looking forward to next year. What are some there are some great things nonprofits are doing on the web. We just had a project that we just finished with with a client called Oregon shores conservation coalition. I really want to get the executive director on one of these podcasts because they they have this great program in Oregon, where their goal is to protect the Oregon Coast right like to make to conserve the Oregon coast. And they have something like, I don’t know a couple of 100 volunteers who have each adopted one mile of Oregon coast. And they’re called Coast watchers, and they agree to every quarter go and walk their entire mile of Oregon coast and fill out this detailed report about the conditions. So what has changed? What’s the litter situation? What’s the wildlife situation? What’s the public access situation? see anybody parking was not supposed to park? See, you know, see any plastic, take photos of stuff? Are there any seals that are stranded to take photos of them? And they publish this big report online with images and stuff. And you can go to the website, Oregon shores.org. And you can search through all of the reports that have ever been taken. And see how are things changing? How what are the photos being taken this year versus last year? Is there are there more snowy clovers there, I guess I learned this to the project snowblowers or endangered species. It is just such a great idea of a way to like engage your supporters, right to do something really cool to give stakeholders and people who care about the code, something to look at and see how things how the work is working to give even like State Assemblyman and simply women who work in government, something to look at too. And get involved in the issue. It just seemed like such a great idea. And just I want to learn more about that kind of stuff, like what are the cool things that people are doing leveraging, you know, all nonprofits have budget issues, all nonprofits don’t have as much money as they need. How can we use web to really do some cool stuff. So that’s what that’s what’s most exciting for me to really get into.

Chad Franzen 21:35

Sure, yeah, there’s all kinds of nonprofits out there. I’m sure you know, people are doing great things. So it’ll be great for you to learn more, and for your listeners to learn more. So yeah, we’ll we’ll certainly look forward to future episodes. It’s been great to talk to you today, Ben. Congratulations on completing your first podcast episode, and we’ll look forward to future ones.

Ben Freda 21:54

Hey, thank you so much, man. Really a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to this. 

Chad Franzen 21:58

Absolutely! Thanks so much, Ben. So long, everybody.

Outro 22:03

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time. And be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.

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