The United Way of Central Maryland is the principal means that 2.4 million people of five counties and Baltimore City have to help their neighbors and themselves in health and human care.
This is the most effective use of charitable impulses, at the least cost in overhead. A single decision in the workplace for a payroll deduction keeps donating throughout the year. A single campaign in the office or factory floor is the one disruption for charity in that workplace all year. Think of the chaos otherwise.
Last year, the United Way provided services to 800,000 people in Central Maryland, thanks to money raised from 225,000 donors by 20,000 volunteers! Few dollars are so efficiently spent on the shelters, soup kitchens, clinics, etc., that tug on people's better natures. This is the one comprehensive match of community resources to community needs, the one voluntary activity in which most of us in Central Maryland join together.
The United Way of Central Maryland includes the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the Combined Health Agencies, Associated Black Charities, Catholic Charities and the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
In addition, the United Way supports 59 community service agencies. In every one, United Way has examined the program and knows why and how the money was spent, with what result. It offers the donor assurance that the money went for the purpose intended. If donors do not require that assurance, and want to give to other agencies, the United Way faithfully passes the money along. Through Donor Option, anyone filling out a pledge directs the money to any qualified health and human service organization in Central Maryland. There is no change in the Donor Option this year.
United Way giving has slipped, partly due to recession and reduction of the large unionized work forces that gave generously, partly due to competition for the charitable dollar. Central Maryland -- Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties -- will go downhill as a place to live, work and raise children if this trend is not reversed.
Last year, United Way raised $27.5 million, 3 percent less than in 1992 (these figures do not include the campaigns that United Way manages in federal, state and city government workplaces). This year, it has lowered its sights to hardly more than it raised last year. The quality of life demands that this goal be exceeded by more donations and more fund-raising in nonprofit workplaces, professional partnerships and small companies that were overlooked in earlier years.
This is the most important charitable dollar that anyone in Central Maryland will give or not give this season. The donor can react to the first outstretched hand -- or take charge by giving in the most effective way with the greatest accountability where the need is greatest.