• Giving Back

Volunteering Business Skills to Help Nonprofits

Joan Steinberg, Global Head of Philanthropy, explains why Morgan Stanley employees want the opportunity to provide pro bono services to nonprofits.

Imagine if charities had access to the same kind of strategic advice global corporations get from investment banks? That was the question that spurred the creation of Morgan Stanley’s Strategy Challenge eight years ago. It’s a pro bono model that engages promising employees, who are hand-picked by their managers and paired with nonprofits needing help with strategic issues.

Every year, more than 60 Associates and Vice Presidents in London and New York are drawn from businesses across the firm and paired with a nonprofit, whose strategic challenge matches the skills of the team members. With the guidance of a seasoned Managing Director, each team spends the next two months developing a strategic plan the nonprofit can use to expand its scope.

“We felt that giving a charity the tools to transform has a much more powerful impact over time than simply writing a check,” says Joan Steinberg, Global Head of Philanthropy.

The program also helps employees expand their networks, exposes them to senior leaders, develops their client and presentation skills and puts them in the driver’s seat to set strategy, at a point in their careers where they're potentially in line for leadleadership roles.

If you’re spending the bulk of your time every week at work, then making a wage is just not enough.

Yet the Challenge’s benefits go well beyond helping nonprofits and training for employees.

“Everyone wants to feel like they have a purpose in life,” says Steinberg. “And if you’re spending the bulk of your time every week at work, away from family and friends, then making a wage is just not enough. Our employees have incredibly sophisticated skills and it’s very empowering for them to put those skills to use in a way that can change the entire growth trajectory of a nonprofit.”

It’s tough work, often involving an additional 20 hours of work each week on top of  each participant’s day job. But according to Michelle Morrow, a Vice President in the Legal and Compliance division, it was a privilege to work on the Strategy Challenge team in 2015, helping Headstrong

“You literally don’t have time to do anything else but work for 10 weeks, but it’s incredible,” she says. Her team won the 2015 Challenge by developing a roadmap for Headstrong to expand its mental health-related services for military veterans. It required rigorous cost-benefit analysis of demand in each state, ancillary hospital and doctor availabilities, the competitive landscape and Headstrong’s staff levels and budget. The team’s recommendation was to expand to San Diego first, but the presentation to the charity also included a blueprint on how they could expand further into other cities they were considering, like Detroit and Houston.

“It makes you realize that you have extraordinary skills that can really create incredible amounts of positive change,” Morrow adds. For Headstrong, our work literally enabled them to save more lives.” 

Critical for Today's Employees

Steinberg’s team is now considering how it can expand its pro bono platform. “We’ve seen this desire become critical among today’s employees, particularly millennials, who are seeking ways to create social good through their day-to-day work,” says Steinberg. “The stronger the platform we can create, the more our employees can unleash their skills to make  tangible improvements in the world.”

The Strategy Challenge, so far, has delivered more than 68,900 hours of service to 104 entities in diverse mission areas, including children's health, mentoring and community empowerment.

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