Michael Williamson

President and CEO, United Way of Southeast Louisiana

Bringing people together to raise millions for those in need.

When Michael Williamson first volunteered with his local United Way branch in South Carolina, he had no idea he was embarking on a new career path. Then a bank officer, Williamson participated in United Way’s “Loaned Executive” program and was such a success that six month later, he was offered a position with the organization.

After five years with United Way America, he was recruited to come to New Orleans as the chief operating officer for United Way of Southeast Louisiana. In 2013, he took over as president and CEO.

Amid the myriad challenges of 2020, this experience has served him well.

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“These are the times United Way was built for,” Williamson said. “We are at our best when we are setting the collaborative table and bringing partners together.”

Five years ago, United Way released its “Blueprint for Prosperity,” which Williamson described as a “bold mission to eradicate poverty in Southeast Louisiana.” The work was at a pivotal point going into 2020, and Williamson found the biggest challenge over the year was simply to stay the course and follow the plan.

But following the original plan wasn’t enough. In order to meet new needs created by the pandemic, United Way created a pandemic response fund for Louisiana hospitality workers to “raise money to provide emergency grants to these workers as a bridge to when they could receive government aid.”

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The fund raised more than $2.4 million and distributed approximately 4,800 checks within just a few months. Williamson said he was particularly proud of the amount raised given that the entire nonprofit sector was competing in 2020 with political fundraising efforts.

Always one to look on the bright side, Williamson noted that the pandemic also encouraged the organization to use technology to increase efficiency.

“In a matter of weeks, our team was pivoting to use more digital tools,” he said. “This probably sped us up by five years.”

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He noted the steep learning curve that was a part of learning to manage donor relations via video technology but said the result has been a permanent operational change.

“Completing this transition successfully means United Way will be a stabilizing force in our community for years to come,” he said. “We will be able to play a stronger, more strategic role in the COVID-19 recovery.”

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