Embattled Cincinnati UW Exec Leaves

November 1, 2018       Paul Clolery      

United Way of Greater Cincinnati CEO Michael Johnson is going back to his old job at the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County in Madison, Wisc.

Johnson had been locked in a disagreement with the United Way of Greater Cincinnati (UWGC) board and sent a letter to the full board saying that he felt bullied by the board’s chair. He started in the job this past July and had been on leave for the past several days. Johnson will reportedly stay at the United Way until the fall campaign is completed on Nov. 14 and will aid in the transition.

He will restart at the Boys & Girls Club on Dec. 15, according to an announcement from the organization.

“I couldn’t be happier to return to Madison as the leader of Boys & Girls Club of Dane County,” Johnson said via a statement. “My time away has only reinforced that this is my dream job, and I appreciate the opportunity to rejoin this incredible staff and champion the great work they have continued to do for the community.”

In the announcement, Boys & Girls Club officials said that under Johnson’s past leadership, graduation rates and programming success increased significantly.

Johnson remained on the United Way’s website as of Thursday afternoon. He was the organization’s first African-American chief executive and only person of color pictured on the organization’s seven-person leadership page.

A message to the United Way seeking comment was not returned.

UPDATED: In a letter to the board on Friday, chair Julia Poston announced she would step down. “As dedicated as I am to my service as UWGC Board Chair, it is clear to me that we can’t be distracted by this unproductive debate that feels singularly focused on my role,” she wrote.

Interim CEO Ross Meyer wrote in a blog post Friday that the board affirmed its commitment to join with other organizations “as an active participant in an important community dialogue about equity and race.”

During his previous tenure as CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Johnson quadrupled the number of children and families served and expanded the operating budget by 318 percent, making it one of the fastest growing clubs in the country, according to a statement from the organization.

“We are thrilled to welcome Michael back to Madison, and look forward to getting him up to speed on all the wonderful things our staff, donors and supporters have accomplished over the last few months,” said Boys & Girls Club Board Chair Jenny Meicher Santek. “Michael’s home is here at Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, and we’re eager to bring his trademark passion back to the team.”

The NonProfit Times reported last week that UWGC could fall short of last year’s campaign totals by as much as 15 to 20 percent and is warning local nonprofits to brace for funding cuts. The organization did not announce a fundraising goal for 2018 but Johnson told WCPO Cincinnati that $52 million is projected for this year’s campaign. UWGC raised $56.5 million in 2017 and more than $60 million in each of the two prior years. That decline was the largest in at least 20 years, according to United Way. Last year, UWGC ranked sixth among United Way affiliates in the nation in terms of fundraising.

The recent projections led UWGC to warn the more than 140 nonprofits it works with to expect cuts in funding.

“A lot of this has caused United Way to be more conservative in terms of what our target is internally and what we’re planning to invest in the community,” Teresa Hoelle, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, told WCPO. Workplace giving has been declining for years, hitting United Ways hard and sometimes leading affiliates to focus their mission on fewer areas. Fewer employees at the largest companies in the area have contributed to a decline in contributions, Johnson told WCPO. Some of the region’s companies also have been acquired by outside ownership that doesn’t have the same interest in local charitable efforts, he said.

The Cincinnati Enquirer obtained and reported on an email Johnson sent to several board members, including members of the executive committee. He wrote in the email that the board chair had labeled him an “angry man,” has created a “hostile work environment” and “attacked my credibility.” Members of Cincinnati’s black business leaders this week rallied on Johnson’s behalf and have lobbied the United Way for a discussion on race relations with the Cincinnati business community.

  • Boys & Girls Club of Dane County
  • Julia Poston
  • Michael Johnson
  • Ross Meyer
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer
  • United Way of Greater Cincinnati
  • WCPO Cincinnati