Recession hurts drive for charity United Way sets lower goal, wants more people to give.

October 03, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

Thanks to you, goes the ad slogan, the United Way works for all of us.

And thanks to the recession and cutbacks in government domestic programs, many of us will have to dig a little deeper if the United Way is to continue its work.

Acknowledging the economic slump and its impact on workers who make charitable contributions, the United Way of Central Maryland has set a 1991 fund-raising goal lower than those of previous campaigns.

The organization will work to offset the recession's impact by trying to increase the number of people who make donations. It also will attempt to persuade regular givers to give even more this year. Also, it stretched the campaign from the usual three months to five.

The goal for the current campaign, which started last month and continues through January, is $33.2 million. That represents a 4 percent increase over the amount raised last year, $31.9 million.

In contrast, each campaign goal increase for the previous five years was set at 10 percent or higher, according to United Way spokesman Mel Tansill.

"Concerns about the recession are why we made the goal increase only 4 percent this year," Tansill says.

"What distinguishes this recession is that it has really affected white-collar America worse than any other [slump] in my lifetime," says James T. Brady, the general chairman of the 1991 campaign.

As a result of layoffs and other effects of the recession, white-collar workers who have been the backbone of the United Way now may have to turn to the organization for help, says Brady, a managing partner of the Baltimore office of Arthur Andersen & Co., an international accounting and consulting firm.

Brady heads a group of 15 local business executives who determined the goal for the current campaign. The group partly based its figuring on a report done by an economic research group at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"The report came back with the sobering information that confirmed what everyone suspected -- namely, unemployment was up, especially at big companies, like the Maryland Nationals and the USF&Gs," Brady says. "We decided that another double-digit goal increase wasn't a realistic view of the world. Four percent, we feel, is aggressive. It's in tune with reality, but it's enough of a stretch to give people something to shoot for."

About 3,500 local companies, including most of the state's largest, participate in the campaign, Tansill says. About 75 percent of all money raised comes from individual workers, he says.

The United Way also has "targeted" 1,800 smaller Maryland companies of about 50 employees each, which are joining the campaign this year for the first time, he says.

New donors gave a total of $110,000 last year, a relatively small amount. But, Tansill explains, "We want to keep building on that. We think that's the future of United Way giving."

However, the big companies and their employees continue to chip in the bulk of the funding.

The Westinghouse Electronics Systems Group in Linthicum is annually one of the top contributors to the local campaign. In 1990, the company and its employees raised $2.465 million for the United Way.

But last February, Westinghouse laid off 1,200 workers after the Navy canceled its A-12 Stealth program. Because of the reduction, the company set its 1991 United Way goal at $2.2 million, a $250,000 drop from 1990.

"With the economy the way it is, we are seeing people pulling in their horns, saying, 'There are certain things I can't afford to do this year,' and that includes the United Way," says Marvin E. xTC Jones, the vice president of human resources at Westinghouse and the company's United Way campaign chairman for three years.

Paul Veltre, who runs the United Way campaign at the Genstar Stone Products Co. in Hunt Valley, says, "Nothing was more at the front of my mind than the recession" when he was determining the company's United Way goal for 1991.

Earlier this year, Genstar reduced its work force by 300 through retirements and layoffs.

"We raised $84,000 last year, and our goal this year is $88,000," says Veltre, the director of information services at Genstar. "It's not the 10 percent increase we would have had in better economic times."

Yet, according to Tansill, contributions to United Way generally hold steady and sometimes increase in tough times.

"People are aware of what's going on around them, so they try to help out by giving a little more if they can," Tansill says.

Westinghouse already has raised $2.043 million toward its goal, Jones says. And at Genstar, early indications are that giving will at least meet previous levels, Veltre reports.

Tansill says the United Way won't have an accurate view of how fund-raising is going until later this month.

Both Jones and Veltre say giving has been prodded along by various programs. For example, the United Way has arranged tours of client agencies so potential contributors can see firsthand where their money would go and how it would help. Also, companies usually offer cash awards and other incentives to employees who raise the most money or raise a certain amount by a deadline.

According to Brady, the agency tours have had an especially strong impact on contributors.

"People on these visits can see that their dollars are being used effectively," Brady says. "The message to them is not that they can make a difference, but that they are making a difference."

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