• Giving Back

Pro Bono Strategic Advice Puts Breakfast on the Table

As Morgan Stanley’s 2017 Strategy Challenge kicks off, we visit 2014's UK charity Magic Breakfast to see how they’ve fared since receiving our pro bono help.

In 2000, while researching her first book, ‘Change Activist’, Carmel McConnell was told by teachers at five East London schools that their pupils were arriving at school too hungry to learn. Shocked to hear this was happening on the doorstep of London’s financial district, McConnell started delivering juice, bagels and porridge to the five schools. That was the beginning of Magic Breakfast, a UK charity that now provides morning meals to 31,000 school children at 480 schools in the country.

At one point, McConnell even re-mortgaged her home to fund Magic Breakfast. In 2014, the nonprofit found a more sustainable way to expand, after receiving pro bono strategic advisory services from five Morgan Stanley employees, as part of the firm's pro bono Strategy Challenge.

At the time, Magic Breakfast had just won a tender from the UK’s Department for Education, to essentially double its reach to 184 schools in low-income areas across the country. The tight turnaround was a tall order for the charity's 15 staff. “We needed to grow quickly but also efficiently and sustainably, and we just didn’t have the resources or the skill-set in-house to do it ourselves in the time given,” explains Alex Cunningham, Magic Breakfast’s General Manager.

We have financial expertise that can fundamentally improve a charity’s ability to do more good work.

This was the kind of strategic issue Morgan Stanley’s pro bono Strategy Challenge program was designed to tackle. The Challenge began in 2009 as a way of  helping nonprofits develop a strategic plan that could expand their scope, as well as give talented employees a chance to use their professional skills to change communities for the better.

“One of the greatest things about the Strategy Challenge is that you get to use professional skills for a worthy cause,” says Jayne Glazebrook, one of the team members that worked with Magic Breakfast in 2014. “We have financial expertise that can fundamentally improve a charity’s ability to do more good work.” Glazebrook and her team members spent time outside of working hours analysing data, reviewing distribution channels and capacity. They ultimately provided Magic Breakfast with a plan for expansion to meet the tender, and developed a template for continued expansion thereafter. 

The annual Challenge, which runs for eight weeks in London, and 10 in New York, starts with Morgan Stanley managers choosing promising employees to form teams, which are then paired with non-profits in need of strategic advice and direction.

The team members come from across different businesses at the firm, to ensure the skill-set matches the needs of the nonprofit. For Magic Breakfast, the challenge was to create an expansion plan without putting too much additional pressure on the nonprofit's resources.

“The Morgan Stanley team created a new budget and their analysis made us see we had to start standardizing our offer as well as streamline budgeting, sourcing and distribution,” says Cunningham. The team also suggested ways Magic Breakfast could renegotiate deals with suppliers and partners and cut delivery costs by a third. “That meant we could serve more schools without huge deficits at the end of the contract," Cunningham adds. "And it meant that feeding more children wouldn’t cost significantly more.” 

Magic Breakfast has gone from 15 staff members in 2014 to 25 today, and has expanded its reach from around 90 schools before the Strategy Challenge, to 480. 

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