New United Way leader known for innovation

Paul Knox laces up a pair of large shoes today, taking over as the executive director of The United Way of Thurston County after Pam Toal guided the agency for eight years.

Knox, an Olympia resident since 1988, previously served as a board member for the agency and says the job is the latest step in a mission he began early in life.

“Early on, I got into the idea that I wanted to be involved in making positive change in the world,” he said last week. “I was in VISTA coming out of college. I did community and political work up in Seattle.”

He takes over as The United Way and other nonprofit agencies face significant challenges created by the economic downturn and said he will work to engage donors.

Much of Knox’s experience is at the state level; he said he’s looking forward to working at the local level.

“Most of my best jobs are the ones I’ve kind of created and built,” he said. “I have not been able to do it at the local community level.”

Toal said Knox has a great foundation upon which to build, adding that he led the effort to develop a new strategic plan.

“One thing I’ll be very excited to watch happen is that Paul is very innovative,” she said. “He understands the importance of meeting immediate needs in the community, but also understanding them being a portal toward long-term change.”

The selection of Knox for the top job affirmed the good work that The United Way has made in being more progressive, Toal said.

“He’s the kind of individual who sees opportunities, and I just appreciate that about him,” she said. “He’s very proactive, and he’s always looking for ways to change a system if it’s not working. … Our board has been very supportive of my efforts to try to take us to new levels. Paul is going to enhance that.”

Knox was selected from among more than 50 candidates by The United Way’s 26-member board. Board member Nancy McKinney said she supported hiring Knox because of his grant-writing success, as well as the impression he made when she worked with him through the Thurston County Asset Building Coalition. Knox is the founder of the Washington Asset Building Coalition.

“He’s very good at bringing people together and making connections,” she said.

Brian Sandford: 360-754-5425