United Way to overhaul its operation

June 24, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Hoping to reverse a five-year decline in fund raising, the United Way of Central Maryland unveiled a plan yesterday aimed at strengthening ties among donors, the agencies receiving money, and the programs and individuals they help.

"It's now time for massive change," said Robert D. Kunisch, the co-chair of a steering committee that studied United Way's operations and recommended the coming changes. "Read my lips," he added. "This is a different attitude and mind-set than has existed in recent years."

Among the changes announced yesterday:

* The number of organizations receiving money through the United Way campaign, but which are not necessarily approved or member programs, will be reduced.

* United Way affiliates receiving guaranteed funding each year -- the Catholic, Jewish and black charities, Red Cross, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and the Combined Health Appeal -- will participate in fund raising.

* The seven affiliates will become more accountable, explaining every two years what they were doing with United Way money received.

* United Way will concentrate on specific objectives -- fund raising, fund distribution, and operating its 24-hour "First Call for Help" hot lines through which people needing help are directed to the appropriate agency.

Formerly, Mr. Kunisch said, United Way was "too focused on toomany different initiatives" -- dealing with such problems as training agencies in personal computing or soliciting donations of office furniture for its nonprofit member agencies. Offering too wide an array of services was "diluting our efforts to raise money," he said.

Mr. Kunisch is a United Way volunteer leader and chairman of the board, president and CEO of PHH Corp. The recommendations for change were the outgrowth of a study begun in May 1993 -- an effort staffed with five of the Central Maryland United Way's 90 employees and 45 other regional volunteers. Local companies volunteered economic and marketing analyses, and members of the review board studied other United Way branches that served as models.

Work on the new United Way operating plan is expected to conclude by December, Mr. Kunisch said.

United Way officials said much of the change is intended to give donors -- both corporate and individual -- a better sense of the good their money is doing, in hopes that gifts from them and others will grow.

"We want to make sure people link the United Way with an effective way to spend money in a community," said Norman O. Taylor, United Way of Central Maryland's president.

Mr. Taylor said a decline of 40,000 jobs in the region has had an impact on United Way's fund raising, and that the organization hopes to see an increase in the percentage of employees who give money through their places of employment.

Overall, 42 percent of employees at companies with 50 or more on the payroll are participating in the United Way appeal, he said.

He said United Way intends to customize fund-raising campaigns for workplaces, and arrange tours of the nonprofit organizations receiving donations so donors can see how their money is spent.

"People want to give to organizations that are indeed making a difference," Mr. Taylor said.

Similarly, United Way will be using the detailed information provided by the major affiliates every two years to keep donors informed.

The reduction in the organizations receiving money through United Way will largely affect programs that individual donors had been able to designate to receive their money.

Mr. Taylor said more than 1,700 organizations and programs had been given money through donor designation -- sometimes as little as $1 -- and that those recipients did not have to be approved by United Way. But which organizations will win approval and continue receiving money through United Way has not yet been resolved.

United Way of Central Maryland has seen a steady decline in donations -- about a 3 percent drop each year through the 1990s. This year, it received about $35 million. Mr. Kunisch and James Brady, United Way's chairman of the board and managing partner of Arthur Andersen & Co., attributed the decline to the poor economy of recent years and to the organization's own failures that the plan is intended to address.

"The approach we were using in the '60s and '70s that worked so successfully [was] clearly not the way to go in the '90s," he said. In decades past, companies could afford to give more, and business leaders -- who routinely donated to the United Way -- have been replaced by new faces.

Also, employees who contributed through workplace donations now have more say in where their money should go and have become more selective. "The United Way has to prove itself more often [to donor organizations] than they had in the past," Mr. Kunisch said.

United Way officials said they did not think the 1991 controversy over the $435,000 salary of United Way of America's former president, William Aramony, remains a factor in fund-raising slippage. "I believe that's not the issue any longer," Mr. Brady said, "and we do ourselves a disservice to hide behind it."

Mr. Kunisch said the changes should bring results in three years. He said that, with a goal of raising an unprecedented $50 million to $75 million yearly, United Way of Central Maryland has "a lot of work to do."

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