Public Trust and United Way

February 27, 1992

Over the years, the nation's 2,100 independent and locally governed United Way organizations have became an essential safety net for America's less fortunate. As hard times have multiplied human needs and financially strapped governments have moved away from their social commitments, United Way's responsibilities have increased. And Americans have responded. Last year, the organization raised $3 billion nationwide for causes that ranged from helping battered women and the homeless to financing programs to combat AIDS and promote literacy.

The reputation of the whole United Way movement is now in danger of being tarnished because of allegations of management and employment irregularities involving the long-time president of United Way of America, the central training and promotion organization based in Alexandria, Va. At least 14 local United Way affiliates have so far announced they are withholding their annual dues until the controversy is resolved. Others, including United Way of Central Maryland, are contemplating similar action.

Nothing is more important than a charitable organization's reputation and trustworthiness. The general public does not much care that Alexandria's United Way of America is like a trade association, helping local affiliates with training, promotion and fund-raising techniques. The name is the same and the whole movement suffers from allegations about the president's $463,000 salary, condominiums paid for with the organization's money and the hiring of friends and relatives.

United Way of America's Washington law firm is scheduled to complete a report about the allegations by April 2. The Alexandria organization's 14-member executive committee will then decide how the conclusions affect the future of its president, William Aramony. United Way of Central Maryland, which is independently governed, will have its board meeting later in April, at which time it will decide whether the situation warrants withholding its $345,000 contribution to the national organization. Such action would be unprecedented.

Some press reports suggest that entrenched United Way of America officials are not fully cognizant of the damage these allegations are causing. Instead of giving clear-cut answers, they seem to be blowing smoke, offering excuses and justifications. This cannot be tolerated.

We urge the 36-member board of the United Way of Central Maryland to express its concerns to the national organization and make sure that the whole mess is settled once and for all. United Way is too important to have its reputation ruined. The needs are too great.

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