Charity in an imperfect world

September 22, 1992

In an imperfect world, charity always faces an impossible task. There are never enough resources to meet all the needs. But in a floundering economy, the odds get even longer. When jobs disappear, more people need help -- while the pool of donors shrinks.

Each year as it begins its annual fund-raising campaign, United Way of Central Maryland reminds us of the vital services performed by the non-profit agencies that depend on the pledges of thousands of United Way contributors. As this year's campaign opens tomorrow, that message takes on even greater urgency. Marylanders are hurting, and many of the people who are now turning to United Way agencies for help are the same people who in better times routinely made it possible for United Way campaigns to exceed their goals.

The challenge of attracting more donations from fewer contributors is daunting enough. But this year United Way campaigns around the country face the added burden of fallout from the disclosure of financial irregularities at its national trade organization. William Aramony, who controlled the United Way of America for 22 years, helped build the United Way movement into a major charitable force. But disclosures of his questionable spending habits led to his firing last February and unfairly cast doubts over many local affiliates that bore no responsibility for the scandal.

The national organization has appointed a new leader -- Elaine L. Chao, the respected director of the Peace Corps -- and is getting its house back in order. That's progress, but it doesn't entirely erase confusion and doubt in the minds of donors. A reputation is a fragile thing, and nowhere is trust more important than in work that depends on the generosity of thousands of people.

Rebuilding that trust will take time, but it can and must be done. Through the years, the United Way of Central Maryland has proved its worth to this community in thousands of ways. With the help of Marylanders who are able to contribute, this year's campaign can sustain and extend that important tradition.

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