Reforming United Way

June 26, 1994

If the United Way of Central Maryland did not exist, we'd have to invent it. There is no substitute for an all-embracing appeal to generosity and neighborly concern to meet the health and human services needs of many thousands of us that government cannot or will not address. And there is no donation as efficient as payroll deduction at the workplace after a carefully thought-out decision.

Without these, everyone would be besieged by a chaos of appeals for an unmanageable array of unexamined organizations. More effort would go into raising money. Less money would get through to meet need. Fewer people would be helped.

The United Way of Central Maryland is, in fact, shrinking. And thanks to an arduous review process undertaken by 41 of its volunteers over more than a year, it is reinventing itself.

The examination was chaired by Robert D. Kunisch, chief executive of PHH Corp., and George V. McGowan, chairman of the executive committee of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. It yielded a business plan that may not change what the donor sees during the next campaign, but should reshape the organization over the next five years.

Though need rose during the recession, the shrinking of traditional industries in Central Maryland reduced the donor base. Individuals responded more generously, but there were fewer of them. Though the United Way reacted by reaching out to nonprofit employers, smaller firms and professional partnerships, success was uneven.

The new business plan goes to the internal workings of the 92-member staff of United Way and its relations with the community, with volunteers, with its seven affiliates and 60 member agencies and other agencies (1,760 last year!) that donors designate. It goes to stronger partnership with agencies, greater accountability for dollars distributed, measurement of impact, a better referral service for the needy.

In the jargon of the report, "United Way has to shift from an administrative, process-driven organization to a results-oriented, customer-focused orientation." Success would see giving increase despite changes in the workplace.

United Way of Central Maryland is collecting $34 million this year, down from $39 million in 1991. But this should be $50 million. Maybe it can be in a few years. Baltimore is down the list in terms of giving per capita, and suffers for it.

The volunteers who make the annual campaign work deserve credit for not being satisfied and for not taking United Way for granted. Their effort deserves the community's support.

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