'We can do much better' at giving United Way chief hopes to increase subpar donations

June 22, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Larry E. Walton, the president of the United Way of Central Maryland, is looking to make a few changes.

He wants better computer equipment, more volunteer fund-raisers, new initiatives with other agencies, new downtown offices, a higher public profile by staffers and, above all, more money from Marylanders. Much more money.

"We raised $21.3 million in Richmond and $36.2 million here last year," said Walton, who headed the Virginia city's United Way for RTC 15 years, until December. "But the Baltimore-area population of 2.4 million is three times Richmond's.

"We can do much better here; Maryland's a relatively high-income state. The potential is $60 million here. We need more. Federal and state government funding of social programs will be significantly less in coming years."

If his record in Richmond is a guide, he means business. Susan Crump, vice president of planning for United Way Richmond, said Walton was "a very energizing leader" who helped increase giving from $7 million in 1981 to the $21.3 million last year. He emphasized a strong volunteer effort and frequent public appearances.

"Another thing he did in Richmond was his many collaborative efforts with other agencies, said Crump.

"As president here, he replaced a man who didn't know the head of the Chamber of Commerce. Larry became a community builder working with many other groups."

Walton is well-aware of the loss of confidence in the United Way that followed former national President William Aramony's lavish spending and looting of agency funds, which surfaced in late 1991. Aramony was convicted last year of defrauding the charity and is serving a seven-year prison term in Rochester, Minn. He is appealing.

Walton said Baltimore giving declined from 1991 to 1994 but increased last year. He expects it to continue to grow. He views his mission to build public trust as both his style and a post-Aramony need.

This year's fund-raising goal for Central Maryland, under General Chairman Donald Manekin, will be announced next month. Walton telegraphed a more ambitious goal than last year's $36.5 million by producing per-capita figures that show Baltimore-area giving lagging other United Way areas.

"We compared per-capita giving in Baltimore with five other cities," Walton said. "At the top, St. Louis people gave $51. Baltimore people were last with $14." Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City and Cincinnati were between. And, in Baltimore last year, 2,000 leaders gave $1,000 each; that's 25 percent of the number in other like-sized cities, he said.

Walton claimed the problem here is that about half the residents never get asked to donate. He plans to target businesses with up to 300 employees, individuals who could afford $1,000, and potential donors for a national United Way group called "Alexis de Tocqueville" donors who give $10,000 each. The 140 such donors in Baltimore seem low to him.

United Way shouldn't just raise money, Walton said. It should raise its visibility in the community. His own 6-foot-10-inch, 285-pound frame could help.

United Way officials being more active in public would help meet two other major goals, he said.

"One is building the network, building community by collaborating with the many diverse groups here," he said. "There are many foundations in Baltimore, for instance. We could work together in partnerships to aim at specific problems here. Another thing is United Way should be a great community resource that people can take advantage of."

To raise more money and improve customer service, Walton, who succeeded Norman O. Taylor on Jan. 1, plans these changes:

Get new computer hardware and new software by next year for donor and recipient records, to replace outdated 1982 software. Accountant Patty Kelt was hired from the Jacksonville, Fla., United Way to oversee administration and finance "so we can give people answers right away rather than in a few days, like now."

Increase the number of fund-raising volunteers from 300 to 1,000 this year and 3,000 in two years, so each makes only four or five calls -- instead of up to 20 calls, like last year. He also wants to recruit 250 more general volunteers, now numbering 500.

Change offices from those on separate floors at 22 Light St., which he said make for awkward operations, to more-efficient downtown offices by March 1. "We've had several offers already, all of which are a lower per-foot cost than where we are now."

The 49-year-old fund-raiser, who earns $167,000 a year, is moving his family to a new home in River Hill village in Columbia.

His wife, Connie, a teacher, is considering several job offers here in early childhood development. Two sons, Eric and Jason, were in college this year and daughter, Jennae, will make three in college next year.

Walton grew up in Charleston, W.Va. He received a bachelor's degree in community planning in 1968 from Fairmont State College in his home state.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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