Organization: Merit School of Music

Location: Chicago, IL

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About the Merit School of Music:

The Merit School of Music transforms the lives of Chicago-area youth by providing the highest quality music education – with a focus on underserved communities – inspiring young people to achieve their full musical and personal potential. For 35 years, Merit School of Music has been home to a diverse community of talented young musicians and a springboard for exciting personal transformations. Since its founding in 1979, Merit has inspired and motivated more than 50,000 students.

Currently home to nearly 5,000 students, on-site (in the West loop) and off, Merit has both deepened and broadened instructional offerings and increased financial support so that more motivated students can transform their lives through the Merit experience. At Merit, students of every income level and from every corner of Chicago have the rare opportunity to learn together, dream together and build inspiring lives through music.

Merit’s music education continuum for children includes Early Childhood classes for newborns to age seven, instrumental group lessons for grades K-9, and private lessons, all leading to the highest level of achievement: the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory. Thousands of children also participate in Merit’s off-site community music program, Bridges Partners in Music at public schools and community centers, another pathway to the Conservatory.

Merit’s conservatory students are among the most elite youth musicians in the city and represent an economically and ethnically diverse cross section of the Chicago area. Students are accepted by audition only and receive college preparatory level training from Chicago’s finest music instructors valued at $2,500 per year. Nearly 100% of the conservatory’s graduating seniors are accepted into college and most continue their music studies at top colleges, universities and music conservatories.

As part of Merit’s commitment to providing access to a high quality music education, substantial financial support is provided to young musicians through program subsidies, need-based tuition relief and low-cost instrument rental and music supplies so that motivated students can participate in every program regardless of their economic circumstance. The goal is to ensure that children, regardless of their family income, have access to high-quality music education and all of its benefits, developing personally as well as musically.

In June 2005, Merit purchased and moved into the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center, a state-of-the-art facility in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood that more than doubled the School’s instructional space. In addition to more classrooms and larger rehearsal halls, the new building features a recording studio, Clavinova piano lab, music library, dedicated instrument storage room and an impressive, 372-seat concert hall.

For more information on the Merit School of Music, please visit:

The Opportunity:

The President & Executive Director will provide leadership and direction to fulfill the organization’s mission. S/he will work with the Board of Trustees to establish the organization’s next strategic plan and execute that plan with the staff. The Board sees this next chapter as a period of growth for Merit, expanding programming and engaging with a wider range of students. The next President & ED will guide that effort and help expand Merit’s reach and visibility in the community.

Additionally, the President & ED is responsible for leadership and overall management of the organization. This includes overseeing administrative staff and faculty, ensuring that all programs meet Merit’s mission and are effectively implemented, serving as Merit’s representative with its external constituents and developing and overseeing major projects.

The President & ED will work proactively with the Board and development team to fundraise for Merit and strategically lead Merit into its next chapter. Internally, s/he will ensure the staff is working effectively to support the organization and advance the mission of Merit.

Candidate Profile:

The President & ED will be passionate about fulfilling Merit’s mission. S/he will have the character and confidence to work comfortably in a highly visible role and to interact effectively with a broad range of constituents. These include students, parents and teachers, as well as Merit’s Board of Trustees, the Civic Advisory Council, Merit Parent Association National Advisory Board, donors, the music community at large and other stakeholders.

The ideal candidate will have the following personal competencies and characteristics:

Passion for the Mission: The President & ED will have a demonstrable passion for the mission of the Merit School of Music and a commitment to effectively support the goals of the organization. On the most fundamental level, s/he will care deeply about offering high-quality music education to a wide range of children regardless of economic circumstances and will promote this passion throughout the organization and well beyond. S/he will have a vision for the music education landscape and will embrace the history and culture of Merit, which is integral to gaining credibility with the faculty, staff, parents, partners and students. In addition the President & ED’s eye will consistently focus on the future and how to best adapt Merit to its changing environment.

Strategic Leadership and Management Acumen: The President & ED will be a strategic leader who, along with the Board, sets and articulates a vision for the organization’s next chapter, develops a strategic plan, executes upon it and evaluates outcomes. The President & ED will be an approachable leader who supports a culture of collaboration among the staff, faculty and students as well as Merit’s other diverse stakeholders. S/he will have a demonstrated understanding of how to run a financially sound organization. S/he will partner closely with the Board and be a proactive communicator at all times.

Partnership Development and Fundraising: The President & ED must work in a collaborative manner, building relationships and promoting Merit throughout Chicago and nationally. S/he will actively and strategically seek partnerships and build coalitions with other nonprofit and community organizations and their leaders on behalf of the strategic vision of the organization. S/he will work in close collaboration with the Board and staff to identify, approach and cultivate partners and donors to help advance Merit’s objectives. The President & ED will be a proven or emergent fundraiser coupled with a deep understanding that successful fundraising and the development of partnerships with allied organizations are fundamental responsibilities.

Ambassador for Merit: The President & ED will work tirelessly as an ‘Ambassador’ for Merit’s mission. S/he will be able to build rapport and promote Merit with all constituents. As the external voice of the organization, s/he will articulate and broaden the vision of Merit to its current supporting community and future stakeholders. The President & ED must be a confident public speaker and have a solid understanding of how to utilize advertising and public relations for an organization such as Merit. S/he will help expand the Merit student body by engaging parents and children of varying socioeconomic conditions as well as representing Merit locally and nationally in civic, philanthropic and music education arenas.

A Bachelor’s degree is required and a graduate degree is preferred. Experience in the field of music education and nonprofit organizations would be advantageous, but are not required.


Koya Leadership Partners has been exclusively retained for this search. This search is being led by Alison P. Ranney, Marissa Martin and Alexandra N. Corvin.

To express your interest in this role, please submit your resume using Koya’s online link: or email Alison, Marissa or Alex directly at All inquiries and discussions will be considered strictly confidential.

About Koya Leadership Partners:

Koya Leadership Partners is a national retained executive search and human capital consulting firm that works exclusively with non-profits and social enterprises. We deliver measurable results, finding exceptionally talented people who truly fit the unique culture of our client organizations and ensuring that organizations have the resources and strategies to support them. For more information about Koya Leadership Partners, visit