United Way passes halfway point in push toward highest goal Agency has pledges for more than $23 million of $39.1 million objective

October 23, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

With three weeks left in its shortest campaign, United Way of Central Maryland is more than halfway to its highest goal.

The umbrella agency collecting money for 302 agencies has raised more than $23 million in pledges toward its target of $39.1 million in a 10-week campaign. Last year, United Way raised $37.8 million in about 11 weeks.

"It's going well," said campaign Chairman William Couper, president of NationsBank for the Baltimore area. "Two divisions are down, but most are up. There's still work to be done. But we expect to reach our goal and show an increase in donations for the third straight year.

"We have reached out to new firms. It's encouraging to see companies that are changing the way they do business also giving and being creative in their giving."

First-time contributors

Employees and managements of at least 52 companies and nonprofit groups are contributing for the first time, according to Elena Cox, United Way's vice president for resource development.

Their main impetus was a challenge by NationsBank, which said it would match gifts of small and medium-sized companies up to $10,000 each.

"Broadening the participation really works," Cox said. "We expect to receive $400,000 this way." The 52 range from companies such as Ciena Corp. with 800 employees to smaller companies such as Kohl's department store in Ellicott City.

"The long-term value is that these firms will be back again next year and increase their contributions," Couper said.

Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., for example, gave $6,000 in its first participation several years ago and gave more than $100,000 this year.

The overall drive opened Sept. 3 and closes Nov. 12, with a "victory" celebration of food and entertainment at the Convention Center. Tickets for $19.97 will finance the evening.

Need called intense

Intense need exists among agencies being helped, United Way officials said. Who gets what money is decided by volunteers, not United Way staff. About 600 of the 600,000 people who benefited from supported programs this year have spoken at fund-raising rallies.

Couper, who has visited more than two dozen recipient agencies, praised their productivity. As an example, he noted the emergency work of the Red Cross, which helped people after a water main flooding near North Avenue in Baltimore and the F-117A stealth fighter crash in Middle River. "There's a fire, the Red Cross shows up," Couper said.

Larry E. Walton, United Way president, recalled a woman and three children who were abused by the woman's husband. They were given shelter and comfort by a United Way agency. "Thank God, someone cares about me as an individual," Walton said the woman told him.

The drive was largely unaffected by the Aug. 24 announcement that starting in early 1999, United Way would reduce the number of agencies it assists, focus on the most needy and require that the agencies demonstrate measurable positive impact, Walton said companies and most donor agencies were supportive of the move.

2 divisions may fall short

Two of United Way's 23 divisions of donors will probably fall short of their 1996 totals, Cox said, but she said time remains for the forecast to be proved wrong.

Financial institutions gave $1.8 million last year, but this year -- with fewer employees after industry buyouts and mergers -- they may give only $1.6 million, she said. Manufacturers gave $1.92 million in 1996, but are projected for $1.9 million this year.

In one example of high participation, more than 50 percent of Baltimore municipal government workers are projected to pledge more than $1 million. They gave $886,000 in 1996.

"We don't have figures yet," Cox said, "but I'll be shocked if we don't have more than the 275,000 total donors who gave in 1996. Bill's [Couper's] message is working: Everyone who gives makes a difference."

The officials said the number of individual donors who give at least $10,000 will jump from 163 to at least 185.

Residents of suburban counties show signs of reaching deeper into their pockets. This may be partly because most of the eight new United Way agencies are county groups helping women and children who have been sexually, physically and mentally abused.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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