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How Donald K. Johnson is opening doors to giving

Portrait of Donald K. Johnson

His $10-million commitment to United Way is inspiring others to dig deep  

From growing up in a small Manitoban town to becoming one of the most successful bankers on Bay Street, Donald K. Johnson knows how to make an impact. 

The Donald K. Johnson Major Gift Challenge Grant, a $10-million commitment to United Way Greater Toronto over ten years, will provide much-needed, impactful, unrestricted funding for United Way’s work fighting poverty in Toronto, Peel and York Region.  

Johnson, a decades-long United Way supporter, hopes his match will inspire others to give

“I deeply believe in giving back and my two favourite sayings sum this up: It’s better to give it away with a warm hand than a cold hand and, he who gives while he lives also knows where it goes,” he said.  

Giving unrestricted dollars appealed to him because it enables United Way to respond to ongoing community needs as well as emerging ones. As made evident through the pandemic and then through record inflation, community needs can change in an instant, without warning, and flexibility is vital.  

“In the years I’ve worked with United Way, I have seen them help so many local causes,” said Johnson, who has been a member of United Way’s Major Individual Giving Cabinet for almost two decades. “I believe we all have a responsibility to support the communities within which we live and work.”  

Johnson credits growing up in the tight-knit community of Lundar, Man. for instilling in him the value of working together for the greater good. 

“My family taught me the importance of working hard, supporting my family and friends, and giving back to your community,” he said. “I never really thought about this as charity; it was just what we did in our small community.” 

Johnson never forgot those early lessons. After he moved to Toronto to pursue his professional ambitions, he continued to give back, committing to transformative advocacy work supporting four key areas: social service, the performing arts, education and healthcare. His passion for philanthropic work was shared by his beloved late wife, Anna McCowan-Johnson. 

“Anna was the most kind and generous person I ever met,” he said. “She had a big heart and always wanted to help everyone.”   

It was McCowan-Johnson, who had been a dancer with her own ballet company, who inspired Johnson to lead an advocacy campaign to remove tax barriers for gifts of publicly listed securities. After 12 years of persistence, the capital gains tax was cut in half in 1997. In 2006, the tax was eliminated entirely, redefining the charitable landscape in Canada by bringing an additional $1 billion in donations annually ever since. 

“This was one of my most impactful initiatives,” said Johnson, who is presently on a mission to eliminate capital gains for donations of private company shares and real estate.   

Creating the Donald K. Johnson Major Gift Challenge Grant is another way Johnson is continuing his wife’s philanthropic legacy. Like their work around capital gains, this donation will hopefully make it easier — and more appealing — for others to give. 

“Anna’s love of giving and my values on helping my community came together in our philanthropic work,” he said. “We both believe deeply in helping others, and I continue to do this work in Anna’s memory.”  

Your gift will be matched

Make your first gift of $10,000+ to United Way Greater Toronto, or increase your annual major gift, and it will be matched by the Donald K. Johnson Major Gift Challenge Grant*.

As we work to tackle poverty across Peel, Toronto and York Region, your dollars will have an even greater impact on our communities.  

*To a maximum of $1 million. Gifts must be received by Dec. 31, 2023. 

Donate now

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