Merit Appoints Steven Berry as Director of Development

CHICAGO, November 16, 2016 – Chicago’s Merit School of Music announced today the hiring of Steven Berry to the position of Director of Development.

Berry comes to Merit from The Green Music Center in Sonoma County, California, home to the acclaimed Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall. As Senior Director of Development since October 2014, Berry served as the Center’s first chief development officer, and oversaw a rebuilding of the organization’s fundraising systems and staff.

Chicago and its philanthropic community, however, are familiar terrain for Berry. Before leaving for Sonoma, Berry was a development executive at The Art Institute of Chicago, where he rose from Director of Individual Giving, to Director of Development, to Interim Vice President for Museum Development between 2012 and 2014.

Berry’s Chicago career path also included owning and directing his own firm, SKB Consulting, which provided interim leadership and strategic planning guidance to clients including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Blair Thomas & Co., Lucky Plush Productions and eighth blackbird. He previously held key development positions at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, managing its Annual Fund campaign, and before that, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he oversaw fundraising efforts for the CSO’s education, community engagement and training programs.

Merit School of Music is a nationally accredited music school helping young people transform their lives through removing barriers to high-quality music education. In his new position at Merit, Berry will be responsible for managing all fundraising activities and events as well as supervising the school’s team of development professionals. He will maintain and deepen Merit’s engagement of current donors, and identify and cultivate new relationships with individuals, foundations and corporations. Berry also will help implement Merit’s new strategic plan, guiding annual and multi-year fundraising efforts as Merit looks toward its 40th anniversary in 2018-19.

Charles Grode, President & Executive Director of Merit, said, “Steven brings a tremendous breadth of fundraising experience as well as a deep passion for music and Merit’s mission. I am confident that Steven, his skills, and his ability to develop and sustain relationships will help Merit advance its mission. I’m excited that he has accepted this position, and know that Steven will provide excellent leadership for our development efforts as we plan for Merit’s 40th anniversary and beyond.”

“I’m thrilled at the opportunity to return to Chicago and to join the team at Merit. Music has been a huge part of my life and playing music, access to lessons and music appreciation shaped my identity as a young person and continue to enrich my life,” said Berry. “Ensuring that young people have access to high quality music education is an incredibly important mission. I look forward to working with Charlie, the Merit staff, board, faculty and family of supporters to continue to advance the mission of Merit and help transform the lives of Chicago area youth.”

Berry succeeds Rita McLennon, who is retiring in January after five successful years as Merit’s Director of Development. Berry begins work at Merit School of Music in January, 2017.

Berry, originally from Cincinnati, received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Philosophy from the University of Dayton. He plays guitar and is an avid collector of vinyl records.


About Merit School of Music
Merit School of Music is a nationally accredited music school helping young people transform their lives by removing barriers to high-quality music education.

For 38 years, Merit has been home to an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse community of talented young musicians from the greater Chicago-area who come together to broaden their horizons while building fulfilling lives through music. Merit’s 125 passionate and experienced teaching artists engage nearly 5,000 students annually, in the school’s downtown location and in area schools and community centers, enabling Merit to serve as a springboard for students to achieve their full musical and personal potential.

Merit’s program consists of five core areas, which students may join at any stage, including: Early Childhood, Instrumental & Vocal Music, and Private Lessons. Merit’s programming continuum begins and concludes with two signature programs – its community-based Bridges: Partners in Music, an in-school music education program; and the audition-based Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory, which requires and represents the highest level of achievement.

Merit is devoted to providing students the opportunity to grow through music by removing barriers. Thanks to the support of Merit’s dedicated faculty, staff, board, donors and parents, 75 percent of its students receive financial support in the form of need-based tuition relief, low-cost instrument rental, and/or music supplies, so that motivated students may unlock their unique musical talent, regardless of economic circumstance.

To learn more, visit or call (312) 786-9428.

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