Melanie Schnoll Begun is Managing Director and Head of Wealth Management’s Philanthropy Management group. She works with the firm’s most influential clients to focus, support, and scale their philanthropic endeavors. In addition to spearheading Philanthropic Consulting Services, Melanie launched and oversees the Morgan Stanley Global Impact Funding Trust (GIFT), the firm’s global Donor-Advised Fund, and Foundation Management Services, a platform for family and corporate foundations. Melanie exemplifies her professional work by living a life of committed action: She is the Nominating Chair and a former board president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation New York City chapter, President of Morgan Stanley GIFT, and Co-Chair of Inwood Charities, among other roles. She holds a BA from Binghamton University and a JD from Quinnipiac University School of Law.
What is the most fulfilling aspect about your work?
For more than 18 years, our work has been about helping clients identify their passions and ways of creating strategic plans for giving. Our goal is to inspire and transform our clients while helping them do the same for their communities.
When clients have significant wealth but have not identified their passion, they often feel unfulfilled. They are often looking for what they want to do with their wealth and their legacy, and I’m delighted to be able to help them find their way.
Our clients—which include wealthy individuals and families; public charities; local, national and international, and private foundations; and corporate foundations—provide the funding to help find cures for diseases, create positive cultural shifts, improve economic development in their communities, and revitalize and reinvent education.
Describe your current role at the firm and your responsibilities.
My primary responsibility is working with our wealthiest clients and families on their strategic giving, which includes everything from helping them develop their mission for giving and engaging their family members in the process to creating the vehicles that they use to perpetuate their giving.
This work may encompass engaging senior and millennial generations in their foundation’s governance; designing customized domestic and international grant portfolios; aligning client values with impactful investing; and facilitating giving circles, board retreats and educational events.
Philanthropy Management helps clients identify their passion in life and the area of philanthropy that will ultimately fulfill that passion. When we do our work well, the results are profound.
How has your experience outside of the financial services industry affected the way you approach your role at the firm?
I am a tax attorney by training, and the formality of that education allows me to enter the conversation with a client where they already feel like I have something valuable to offer. It is not about giving money away. Much of our work is around helping clients recognize the relationship between grant making or the more traditional philanthropy and the possible social change that they can create through impact investing. All the issues our clients are trying to resolve cannot be addressed purely with philanthropy, but rather, they require a combination of those two efforts.
As we remind our philanthropic-minded clients: You can make a difference on some issues, but you cannot be the difference on every issue.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
I am certainly proud of my involvement in launching the firm’s global donor-advised fund, GIFT, which has received over $1 billion in contributions and distributed more than $400 million in grants since 2000. I am also very proud of the honors recognizing the work we do here, and I am personally proud of the successes I have played a role in while serving on the boards of more than a half-dozen nonprofits.
We are immensely proud of the impact that we’ve helped our clients achieve in their communities. Some of this work is reflected in If…Stories of Philanthropy, a coffee table book that features the philanthropic journeys of eight clients who are igniting extraordinary change in the world. The book showcases how Philanthropy Management has assisted these individuals in focusing and scaling their endeavors in areas ranging from curbing teen suicide to providing employment for women in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, in 2015 we will be publishing Volume 13 of "Perspectives in Philanthropy", a publication that highlights individual and nonprofit clients that use philanthropy in innovative ways to improve their communities, their nations, and the world.
As wonderful as all that is, it all comes in second place. Throughout a career that I find so rewarding and fulfilling and exciting, I recognized that there would never be enough time to do everything I wanted—I would have to prioritize and do what was most important first. There is no such thing in life as balance; there is only choice. I made a choice. Though work is very important, so was having a family and I feel my two young sons are far and away my greatest accomplishment.
How would you describe the culture at Morgan Stanley?
It is just incredible to be working with a firm that has taken such a public stand on assisting with global social and health issues and that has a mission focus. Morgan Stanley is deeply committed to its own philanthropic work, as well as to helping clients with their individual philanthropic efforts.
You cannot be in this space and be a silent observer. That extends to the people who work here as well. It’s very important for my entire team to be involved in their work on a grassroots level. I appreciate when they find their own focus and follow their own pursuits.