Hard Times for Charities

December 16, 1993

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

Some of this decline is understandable. While a gradual economic upturn has started in many other regions of the country, Maryland is still mired in recession. The wholesale trimming of the work force by defense contractors, for example, is continuing to have its impact on the entire Baltimore metropolitan area, including Carroll County.

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 Carroll, 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. "People might not know the needs still exists," laments Sylvia Canon, executive director of the Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., which oversees the local Neighbors in Need project.

An uncertain economy may be only one of the reasons for the drop in giving. Perhaps Carroll 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 the 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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