Margaret Johnson of Morgan Stanley on making a difference to its employees and the local community


‘Giving Back’ is one of Morgan Stanley’s five core values. Since the firm opened its office in Glasgow in 2000, the team has worked closely with local charities through fundraising and volunteering efforts with the aim of giving back to the community.

Make a Difference in a Day

Under our ‘Make a Difference’ umbrella, we have a suite of programmes which pull together all of our volunteer-led development initiatives, which to date have supported 18 charities and social enterprises.

In Glasgow, Morgan Stanley partners with Pilotlight, an organisation aiming to benefit disadvantaged communities by matching charities and social enterprises with strategic businesses, who can offer the support they need to become more efficient, effective and sustainable.

‘Make a Difference in a Day’

Our Glasgow programme, ‘Make a Difference in a Day’, launched in 2017. The day-long programme engages 30 managers from across seven different divisions within Morgan Stanley Glasgow to work with two charities/social enterprises, which have a specific need or challenge. As well as benefitting the charity partner, it also provides a great opportunity for employees to work with colleagues they may otherwise not get to in their day jobs.

Before employees start their day with the charity/social enterprise, they have an introductory session to understand more about the charity sector and some of the key differences between our respective organisations and industries. Our employees are then introduced to their charities/social enterprises and given the challenge they will be working on.

The day itself runs from 8:30am to 5pm. Senior internal sponsors of the programme check-in with the teams periodically to offer guidance and support, before the groups present their findings at the end of the day.

Six months after the event, we bring the employees and the charity/social enterprise back together, to review the impact of the teams’ recommendations, the benefits and any lessons learned.

The charities/social enterprises we work with are varied, some focus on children’s health and wellbeing while others specialise in supporting people with conditions, through research and treatment, including cancer or multiple sclerosis.

We try to offer some flexibility to employees taking part in ‘Make a Difference in a Day’, sometimes they have a particular charity or focus that resonates with them, and in other instances the employee’s skill-set will determine the charity with which they will work.

Make a Difference in a Day

A benefit of this programme is employees will use skills they do not otherwise draw on in their day-to-day roles. For example, charities may want help with their marketing and social media efforts. Employees might have some understanding, or studied it as part of a degree or another qualification, but never had the chance to use it in practise. As charities are often quite small, it tests employees to think about different ways to approach challenges and how to use their skills.

Our employees get very passionate about the assignments they are involved in – I wish I could bottle the atmosphere the Make a Difference in a Day creates! It’s a high energy and engaging day, with lots of creative ideas. Employees often go on to develop close and on-going relationships with the charities and volunteer with them on a regular basis – some have even taken board seats.

The charities/social enterprises themselves also often become part of our volunteer network and can call on us to help with anything from raising funds locally, through to support with a particular challenge or project.

On-going support and opportunities

Following the success of ‘Make a Difference in a Day’, we developed two further programmes for our Vice Presidents and Executive Directors, which launched in 2019. By doing this, we have been able to ensure our employees can continue to have opportunities to work with charities on more strategic projects. While similar to ‘Make a Difference in a Day’, the new programmes are with smaller groups of employees, and completed over longer time periods – typically three to four months, depending on what the charity/social enterprise needs. We are delighted that, through these programmes, our Vice Presidents and Executive Directors have been able to support three charities virtually during the COVID crisis.

Feedback from employees highlights how much they get out of the projects personally and professionally. The ability to step outside the corporate environment and explore different ways of working is beneficial, and inspires them to continue to help charities/social enterprises on an on-going basis. It also inspires managers to engage their teams in supporting charities in the local community and we are extremely proud of how our employees have continued to support local community charities during the pandemic. Internally, the Make a Difference programme has enabled employees to broaden their personal networks within the office and learn how to utilise their skillset and expertise in different settings with sometimes unfamiliar objectives and challenges.

The author is Margaret Johnson, executive director of HR Scotland, Morgan Stanley.



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