Hard times for charities

December 15, 1993

Compassion fatigue has hit some Maryland charities big time, 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, Maryland's economy is still mired in a lingering recession. For example, Anne Arundel County, which was particularly hard hit through layoffs by Westinghouse Electric Co. and other defense contractors, continues to have rough going. The closing of the Leedmark hypermart in Glen Burnie is just the latest bit of bad news in that area.

When families are facing economic uncertainty, some of them may see charitable giving as a frill that cannot be sustained. United Way of Central Maryland, a major annual fund-raising drive that benefits hundreds of charitable groups in the region, 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 sponsors and cash. Harford County's Neighbors in Need program usually collects about $16,000 during the holiday season, but so far has received only $600. In Carroll County the Neighbors in Need program is far short of collecting enough food to fill the 800 holiday boxes it hopes to deliver.

Hard economic times may be only part of the reason for the drop in giving. Perhaps Marylanders are just getting tired of the endless solicitations through the mail, on television, by telephone or door-to-door. The situation has not been helped by scams or bad judgment on the part of some reputable groups. 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 is 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, and we urge readers to give generously. Just 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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