Who's Who: Timothy Johnson


The day after Labor Day, Timothy Johnson began a new job—a labor of love, for love, with love—when he took the reins as the president and CEO of United Way of the Bluegrass. “I am excited about the incredible giving and philanthropic nature of the community,” he said. “There’s a long tradition of pitching in and giving and helping, which really speaks to something inside.” A new resident of Lexington, and a new UK fan, Johnson is originally from Brooklyn (Bedford Stuyvesant, to be precise), where he grew up wanting to be an obstetrician. He was pre-med in college and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from North Carolina Central University. Then it was back to New York to study for his MCAT, the Medical College Admission Test, until he got “an accidental job working in city government,” he said. “I discovered the world of workforce development.” He soon found out he was helping a lot of people through nonprofit organizations, “similar to what I wanted to do in medicine, just in a different way,” he said. Since 2005, Johnson has served in a variety of United Way leadership roles: as director of workforce development initiative at United Way New York City, director of community impact for United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and vice president of community impact and then the chief strategy and impact officer (CSIO) at United Way of the National Capital Area in Washington, DC. “I fell in love with the mission of the organization,” he said. Johnson considers himself a United Way “lifer.” He is familiar with different audiences and different landscapes, from urban to suburban to rural. He also has a master’s degree in nonprofit management, with a specialty in health care management, from New School University in New York City. “I would say all United Ways attract similar types of people–do-gooders– which is what draws me to the organization state after state,” he said. You probably won’t find him sitting behind a desk much. Johnson already has 200 meetings scheduled throughout Central Kentucky during his first three months to talk with board members, volunteers, business leaders and other members of the community. “Because of our reputation and track record, we collaborate with all kinds of stakeholders,” he said, “to solve issues together that we can’t solve individually.” UWBG works closely with school districts. “Education is the new currency of the 21st century,” Johnson said. The United Way global network is involved with the census every 10 years, getting the word out so people know how important it is. “The information is utilized for the next decade in terms of resources that are invested in communities,” Johnson said. One of his goals is to involve UWBG in the 2020 census. Established in 1921, United Way of the Bluegrass serves nine counties in Central Kentucky and funds 81 nonprofit agency partners and 140 programs. UWBG’s mission is to fight for the basic needs, education and financial stability of every person in Central Kentucky. Over 50,000 working families in this area struggle to make ends meet. “My overarching goal is to help make United Way of the Bluegrass become the philanthropic partner of choice in this region,” Johnson said. “I believe strongly that we can accomplish more together than individually.”