There’s no shortage of music-focused nonprofits, but there’s plenty of room for more: The Montclair, NJ-based We Are All Music Foundation (WAAM) has launched with a mission to identify and support the most deserving social cause-focused music charities.
Assembled by professionals from the fields of music, entertainment, finance and philanthropy, WAAM named the first three beneficiaries of its Power of Music grants: Education Through Music, Guitars Over Guns and Hip-Hop Public Health. From a field of almost 300 applicants, WAAM also delivered smaller grants to five other music nonprofits.
The new nonprofit also produces livestream events, like its Facebook panel series Power of Music, which focus on music-related causes. WAAM has already forged partnerships with instrument retailer Sweetwater Sound and the South Orange Performance Arts Center and will eventually stage both virtual and live events to help raise funds for the charities it supports.
“There are music nonprofits that address social needs, whether it’s education, health and wellness or supporting underserved communities,” says Tres Williams, EVP of business affairs for iHeartMedia and one of WAAM’s founding trustees. “Our expertise is around supporting those kinds of organizations, not so much the organizations —which are awesome — that seek to support musicians who have fallen on hard luck.”
The initial grants illustrate the concept of music as a public good. New York City-based Education Through Music supports music instruction in disadvantaged schools. Hip-Hop Public Health, also based in New York, uses music to inspire “positive health behavior.” Guitars Over Guns, based in Miami and Chicago, supports youth in disadvantaged communities through music instruction and mentorship.
Representatives of those three nonprofits— Education Through Music executive director Penny Swift, Guitars Over Guns CEO Dr. Chad Bernstein and Hip-Hop Public Health CEO Lori Rose Benson — will be panelists on a Power of Music discussion that will be livestreamed through Facebook this Thursday, Oct. 29 at 5 pm Eastern.
Beyond those three grants, WAAM made smaller donations to five other organizations: Music Haven, Atlanta Music Project, Jazz House Kids, Little Kids Rock and Musicians on Call, the last mentioned one of the organizations highlighted in Variety’s recent 50 Philanthropic Organizations with Showbiz Chops feature.
Along with Williams, founding trustees include music manager and author Michael Solomon, Talara Capital Management co-founder David Zusman and Sound on Sound Studios manager Tony Drootin. They and other entertainment cohorts bonded through a Facebook group with the Elvis Presley-inspired name Montclair Music Mafia, which led to in-person gatherings.
“It’s just a group of music industry folks that get together, have some drinks, network and talk about what’s important to them. We all have our passion about music, we know the power of music can do so many good things.”
Williams, who previously held positions at Thumbplay, eMusic and Sony BMG, credits New York’s poverty-focused Robin Hood Foundation as the inspiration of WAAM’s operating philosophy. “We decided to emulate that and figure out the nonprofits who are best using the power of music to improve lives and benefit society.
“We’re very focused on being stewards of this money, making sure that 100% of the money you give us for donations goes out the door. That’s also the Robin Hood Foundation’s model, to raise money for poverty causes and the operations of the organization are essentially supported by the board members.”
Founded in 2019, the organization went through a six-month process to winnow down the three grant winners and recipients of its smaller donations. “Probably not surprisingly, we found that when you say that you’ve got money to give out, people listen. Our managing director, Mary Crawford, along with several of our board members and advisory board members, got down to the grindstone, did the research, built a database and the methodology to select them.
“Out of the nearly 300 applications for grants that we had, these are the eight that really rose to the top.”