October 19, 2021

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Meet Henry Donahue, Executive Director, Save the Music

Henry Donahue believes that to get to real-world change, national organizations need to listen and learn from partners on the ground in local communities and then co-create plans for development there. Learn more about him and his inspiring work in our newest feature.

For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about your background.

I’ve worked in the social impact space for the last ten years. Since 2016 I’ve been the Executive Director of Save The Music (STM).  I feel super fortunate to work full-time to jump start music programs in public schools.  The band program at my own Maryland public middle school was a game changer for me – connecting me to a peer group, a way to express myself and a reason to come to school every day.  The Executive Director role at STM also brings together several elements of my career – including working in politics, playing guitar in an indie rock band and leading digital initiatives for big media companies.

What are you most looking forward to about reviewing Anthem Awards entries?

We’re very focused at Save The Music on our specific space of music, education and our communities.  I’m looking forward to seeing, learning from and reconnecting with our peers working in the wider work!

What does it take for a project or campaign to cause real-world change?

At Save The Music, we start at the community-level, with the educators and partners who ultimately drive and sustain our impact.  Almost every community in America has an existing ecosystem of people making music, and many of our partner communities (e.g. NYC, Memphis, New Orleans, LA, Detroit) created the genres that dominate pop music today.  To get to real-world change, we need to listen and learn from our partners in these culturally rich communities, and then co-create the plans to invest in creative youth development there.

How does your work at Save the Music support your mission?

Right now I spend a lot of time fundraising. We recently hit a milestone where our founding partner ViacomCBS accounts for less than 10% of our budget, and we’ve shifted strategically to more national and local philanthropic funders.  More broadly, I think the job of the ED is to set the overall direction, then build and support a great team of people.  Our Chief Program Officer Chiho Feindler and Chief Development Officer Danielle Zalaznick are the real drivers behind the growth of the organization over the last several years.

Bonus: What’s your favorite purpose-driven project or mission-driven campaign right now, and why?

Two Memphis-based organizations – Memphis Music Initiative and Successful Inc. – are current stand-out projects for me.

The Memphis Music Initiative provides an impressive set of school and out-of-school music programs, plus works to build the capacity of smaller Memphis-based non-profits. One of those smaller organizations, Erskin Mitchell & Successful Inc., is a Save The Music partner that delivers instruments and musical equipment to educators and students throughout Memphis and the Mississippi Delta region.  As a Mississippi native and HBCU band alumnus who has dedicated himself to investing in young people and music, Erskin has built a powerful network of band directors and music educators across the Delta.

MMI’s commitment to being a backbone organization for the regional music community plus Successful Inc.’s support of young musicians is a powerful combination.  Working together we’re able to create impact for music in the region that goes beyond our individual programs.