Advisers Giving Back: The Moneta Charitable Foundation

A 150 mile bike ride for charity? No problem for the MCF.

Art by Victor Juhasz

The Moneta Charitable Foundation (MCF) is among the most sophisticated and well-established charitable efforts featured in the Advisers Giving Back profiles, which focuses on acts of giving throughout the retirement plan advisory industry.

In fact, the advisers with registered adviser firm Moneta celebrated the foundation’s 20th anniversary with a record-setting pledge campaign in 2019, and the feat has been followed up by another banner fundraising effort so far this year. The details are still pending, but the firm’s leaders say it very well could be another record year.

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According to Moneta Partner Don Kukla, who serves on the foundation’s board of trustees, giving back is a deep and valued tradition at the firm.

“Our employees generously invest their hard-earned dollars back into their community, but they also give their time and energy to make a positive impact as well,” Kukla says.

Notably, when MCF awards a grant, it gives more than just a check. In 2019, for example, a total of 267 Moneta employees logged 1,648 collective volunteer hours doing MCF-related service projects. Last year also saw Moneta start a new community impact initiative called “Moneta Momentum Service Days,” in which employees spend four hours of a couple of their workdays participating in service projects across St. Louis, where the firm is based. This initiative came in tandem with Moneta starting a new employee benefit policy allotting eight hours of paid time off (PTO) for volunteer service.

Kukla explains that Moneta established MCF in 1999, reflecting the firm’s resolve to be a long-term contributor to the community it serves. After awarding $470,000 in grants to nearly 100 nonprofit organizations so far in 2020, the charitable foundation’s total giving over the past 20 years eclipsed $4 million, spread across more than 350 charities.

Given how the firm itself has evolved since 1999, growing from about 50 employees then to north of 350 today, the MCF has naturally evolved as well.

“Early on, we were taking grant requests directly from organizations,” Kukla recalls. “As the word started getting out on the street that the foundation existed and was willing to help, we were frankly inundated with requests. There were actually so many deserving organizations reaching out for help that we were overwhelmed, and we had to evolve our approach. We made the decision to focus on supporting organizations near and dear to the hearts of the people at Moneta.”

The MCF model is now quite sophisticated, featuring various levels of grants and partnerships.

“Today, we have different categories of gifts that we think and talk about,” Kukla says.

The biggest grants of $25,000 are referred to as “partnerships,” and two are developed every year. 

“The way this works is that we have a captain within Moneta to lead that relationship,” Kukla explains. “With these large grants, we look for opportunities to give time and talent, as well as a way to complement the financial support we are giving. It’s a way to double down on the giving that our people find so rewarding.”

There are also mid-sized grants linked to the aforementioned Moneta Momentum program, ranging up to $10,000. Ideas for these grants are generated from Moneta’s staff, as are the targets of the smallest grants, which range from $1,000 to $2,500.

Kukla says MCF also recently established a program called Good Fortune Grants.

“Basically, every month, we draw the name of an employee of ours and they get to choose where the Good Fortune Grant should go,” he says. “We’ve found this approach really helps us make sure the employee base is tied back to the foundation.”

In essence, the MCF is run as a donor-advised fund, meaning that employees who give to the foundation can direct as much as 80% of their contribution to the charities of their choice. If a partner or staffer chooses not to take advantage of that choice, their money goes into the general grant pool.

“We have a few partners who do most of their donating through the foundation, and they really appreciate how it gives them the flexibly to direct their giving,” Kukla says.

Mona Gooden, an adviser with the firm who is active in the foundation’s work, says she and her colleagues appreciate the opportunities afforded by the MCF and the firm’s leadership to give back to the St. Louis community. 

“Even this year, with the COVID situation and the social distancing that has limited our in-person volunteering activities, the foundation has done a really good job of keeping employees engaged and making sure there is still a sense of communal giving,” she says. “Our intranet site features a dedicated foundation page that helps people understand when and where people are volunteering. It creates a real sense of comradery.”

The MCF website describes an impressive list of organizations that have received support, including United Way. One entity close to Gooden’s heart is Bike MS, which is part of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Gooden says she and her husband enjoy tandem bike riding, and they recently completed a 150 mile ride to benefit the group.

“It is just so meaningful to be able to participate in these types of activities, where you can have fun and give back at the same time,” she says.