Donor Spotlight: John Henry McDonald

John Henry McDonald has led a remarkable life. After serving in Vietnam during the war, he spent time as a traveling musician, a ranch manager, and eventually founded Austin’s premiere asset management company. For over a decade, he has been a mentor to ACG’s Executive Director, Matt Hinsley, and currently serves as Vice-President of ACG’s Board of Directors. We asked John Henry to tell us why he believes music education can make a difference in the lives of children.


One of ACG’s primary goals is to positively impact the lives of young people through the guitar. This aspect of our mission seems to resonate with you quite a bit. Can you tell us why?

The story of ACG and the work it does with kids is the story of my life.

When I was a kid, and my home was shattered, and my family life was confusing, guitar was there. After Vietnam, when I was shattered, and everything was confusing, guitar was there. Music is what got me through those tough years. When I finally got back on my feet after the war, I grabbed my guitar, found a harmonica player, and pretty soon we were opening for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Hammond Jr., and Sonny Terry. Through guitar, I learned how to perform, how to communicate with an audience, and most importantly, how to tell a story.

When I came to Austin, I was determined to keep my life together. I was told by a mentor to put the guitar away, and that was seminal. At the time it was what needed to happen for me to transition to the next phase of my life. And that’s when I founded Austin Asset Management.

When I got involved with ACG, I was in another transition. This time, I was selling Austin Asset Management, the company I had built and been running for decades. Once I learned about ACG’s education programs, I was drawn to the organization. I know that for some kids, guitar won’t mean anything. But for some it will be extremely important, and for others – like myself – it will be everything. I remember being 13 years old, lying in bed with a guitar on my chest, and I would play it until I fell asleep. Guitar was central to my life and has been my companion ever since. I give to this organization because music changed my life, and I’ve seen it change the lives of the kids we work with.

“With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep on giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to this organization will continue to make an impact.”

How did you decide to include the organization in your planned giving?

 An old friend once told me that the hardest part about making money isn’t earning it — the hardest part is giving it away. It’s not that I don’t want to give, I’m happy to. But it was hard for me to find an organization I trusted. With ACG, I know I’ve found an organization where I can see my money at work – see the funds actually getting to the beneficiaries, the people the organization says it’s helping. When I met Matt Hinsley, ACG’s Executive Director, I realized immediately that he had a vision for nonprofit arts organizations, and for changing lives through music. I trusted him because it was never about this organization. It was always about giving to the community, and helping young people. Giving to ACG is easy. With ACG, I can see my money doing good things, and that makes me want to keep giving. I trust that when I pass on, the money I have left to ACG will continue to make an impact.

Could you talk a little bit about your involvement with Austin Community College, and the connection it has to ACG?

I’m on the board of ACC as well, and I love the connection we have with them. Dr. Tom Echols is teaching guitar there, and we send kids to him from our high school programs at Travis High School, Akins High School, and others. I know they’re going to get a great education. I love blending my giving – kids in ACG’s high school programs earn college credit by studying guitar at ACC while they’re still in high school, and that keeps their education moving forward. It’s huge for kids who don’t come from a context that would be able to financially support a college education. For some, college may never have seemed like an option. Guitar can provide a pathway to a higher education, and ACG helps make that happen.