The United Challenge

September 22, 1992

As it opens its annual campaign, the United Way of Central Maryland faces unprecedented challenges. A sour economy has increased the demand for the social services provided by United Way agencies, and further cuts in state and local budgets will only add to the burdens.

Meanwhile, the campaign is fighting a public relations battle to reassure donors disillusioned by the disclosure earlier this year of financial irregularities by the former president of United Way of America, a trade group for 2,100 independent fund-raising organizations around the country. Public opinion polls are detecting considerable confusion between independent United Way affiliates and the national organization. The confusion adds yet another obstacle to this year's campaign.

For many years, it seemed that all the United Way had to do was kick off its campaigns with plenty of balloons and boosterism and the pledges would roll in. As a crucial player in Maryland's network of non-profit community services, the United Way has earned the enthusiastic support of many of the area's corporations and businesses. Their participation in the annual campaigns helped assure that fund-raising goals were more often than not met.

But area payrolls have shrunk dramatically in recent years and some participating employers have gone out of business altogether. That not only reduces the pool of potential donors, but the resulting unemployment also adds to the number of people who need services from agencies funded by United Way.

This week's United Way opening is marked by the usual upbeat enthusiasm, but also by a realistic acknowledgment of the task ahead. Although daunting, the challenge is not impossible. In previous years, hard times have brought out the best in people, with donors reaching deeper in their pockets to help meet the growing needs. This year it doesn't take much imagination to understand the depth of the needs facing United Way agencies -- or to realize that in times like these every dollar counts.

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