Former British Army officer Simon Hanson never imagined that one of his toughest challenges at Morgan Stanley would be to help the NSPCC expand a critical service for abused children.
Simon Hanson is no stranger to high-stress situations and mental endurance. A former officer of the British Army who served 11 years and deployed to Bosnia and Iraq—the latter for three tours of duty—before he transitioned to a career at Morgan Stanley, where he works with hedge-fund clients as part of the firm’s Prime Brokerage group, Hanson’s someone who can roll with the punches.
The bottom line was ensuring that children get the benefit that has been proven by academic and industry research to work.
A very different challenge presented itself, when he and four other colleagues were chosen to work with the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), as part of Morgan Stanley’s annual Strategy Challenge pro bono program. “I had two small children and a pregnant wife at the time,” Hanson recalled recently. “It was incredibly emotional for me, and brought home how strong the people who deal with this daily need to be. What they go through emotionally to help others is inspiring.”
That inspiration helped power his team over the course of eight weeks, as they worked with the NSPCC on a plan to help scale up its Letting the Future In therapeutic support program for children who've been sexually abused. Despite excellent results, the NSPCC could only deliver the program sporadically due to limited resources. “The problem they wanted us to work on was: How to scale-up Letting the Future In into new areas?”
Morgan Stanley launched The Strategy Challenge 10 years ago to take on precisely these sorts of strategic issues for nonprofits. The idea: Match dedicated teams of top-performing employees, who are nominated by their business heads from across the firm, with nonprofits facing mission-critical challenges in need of strategic analysis and solutions.
The process for vetting both sides has always been intensive. Individual commitment and team dynamics are critical to the success of the Challenge, as is the fit between the Morgan Stanley teams and their nonprofit partners, who get to know each other very well.
Hanson estimates that he and his teammates were each working 18 hours or more every week of the Challenge, on top of their regular hours. “The first few weeks, we spent as much time as we could with the NSPCC—we spent time with the people who provide the therapy,” says Hanson. “It’s amazing how strong-willed and courageous these people are.”
After that, Hanson’s team was “just completely focused on how we could be useful, how we could help them bring what they do best to even more children, by doing what we do best.” Their analysis found that the NSPCC’s finances relied almost entirely on donations, which had been in decline amid the tough broader economic conditions, as well as recent regulatory changes limiting how nonprofits can advertise for gifts. At the same time, the organization saw growing demand for therapeutic services, such as Letting the Future In.
Once they understood the problem, the team began structuring potential solutions. “The bottom line was ensuring that children get the benefit that has been proven by academic and industry research to work,” Hanson says. Perhaps the best way to do that, they thought, would be to allow the NSPCC to broaden its delivery and bring in other partners. The team looked at ways the NSPCC could set up joint ventures and even offer their proven services through other organizations, which would then contribute their own funding, rather than try to replicate what the NSPCC was already doing so well.
They also reframed the question of scaling up. “Rather than set up a team around each service,” Hanson says, “we proposed establishing one dedicated scaling-up unit, and came up with a blueprint for implementing it.” Indeed, one of the most powerful tools that Hanson’s team left the NSPCC with was a way to map out relative need for services across the entire UK. “Now they have the tools to really make decisions based on where the greater need for the service is,” says Hanson. “They had never seen that before.”
The Strategy Challenge team also found, and helped the NSPCC to apply for, new funding sources, identified partners to help deliver the Letting the Future In program across the UK, located potential service centers in London and reached out to other nonprofit organizations with expertise in delivering therapeutic services.
After making their final presentation, Hanson remembers a moment that he says meant the world to the team. “One of the board members, who also sits in Parliament, told us that this was without a doubt the most useful pro bono they had received—that what we'd achieved in an eight-week engagement would have taken them over a year to do themselves.”
A year later, when the NSPCC was nominated to be Morgan Stanley's London Charity of the Year, Hanson and his teammates hit the campaign trail. “Every employee in London is able to vote,” he explains, “We started campaigning from the moment the nomination was announced. We were actively involved in the pitch and the campaign. We made sure people in our areas knew about presentations by speakers from the charity, were updated with NSPCC literature and understood why the NSPCC is important.”
Ultimately, that campaign was also successful. Two years later, the experience is still very much with Hanson. “It was intense. We got to work with people from all over the bank. And it was great to get to do something so strategic and so impactful. Even to make a very little difference with an organization as great as the NSPCC is rewarding,” Hanson says.