Hard Times for Charities

December 15, 1993

Compassion fatigue seems to have hit some Maryland charities hard this year, with the shortfall in charitable giving especially severe in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

Some of this decline is understandable. While a gradual economic upturn has started in many other regions of the country, the Maryland economy is still hampered by a lingering recession. Anne Arundel County, which was particularly hard hit through layoffs at Westinghouse Electric Co. and other defense contractors, is continuing to have rough going. The closing of the Leedmark hypermart in Glen Burnie is just the latest bit of bad news.

When families are facing economic uncertainty, some of them may see charitable giving as a frill that cannot be sustained. Meanwhile, United Way of Central Maryland, a major annual fund-raising drive that benefits several organizations that serve Anne Arundel, has still not recovered from the recession and from a scandal involving excessive compensation and perks for its national president.

Individual charities are also suffering. Anne Arundel's Holiday Sharing program faces a shortage of family sponsors and cash. "We always get into a bit of a crunch, but I've never seen it like this," a spokeswoman lamented.

An uncertain economy may be only of the reasons for the drop in giving. Perhaps Anne Arundel countians, like donors elsewhere, are simply tired of seemingly endless solicitations through the mail, on television, by telephone or door-to-door. The situation has not been helped by reports of charitable scams or scandals like that at the national United Way. Even so, some charities are thriving. One example is the Salvation Army. With $726.3 million in donations last year, it is by far the nation's largest charitible group.

Generosity, especially during this holiday season, has long been a hallmark of American life. As appeals proliferate, however, it is more difficult to separate out worthwhile causes from the inefficient ones or even the scams. But there are plenty of good causes that need support. We urge readers to give generously. And remember: A reputable charity welcomes queries about its operations, including what proportion of donated funds goes to actual help and what is consumed by various overhead and fund-raising expenses.

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