United Way expects 10% of pledges before campaign 76 'Early Bird' companies have begun summer drives

July 21, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

The United Way of Central Maryland expects to begin its campaign Sept. 3 with about 10 percent of its goal pledged, compared with 5 percent last year, because of heavier than usual summertime fund raising.

So far, 76 "Early Bird" companies have begun drives, triple the number last summer, said Leigh Ann Ruggles, manager of the summer drive. Last year, the 24 that started early raised $1.6 million.

"This has a ripple effect," Ruggles said. "Not only will we raise much more money this summer -- four companies didn't give at all last year -- we'll be able to inform other companies in the fall about the successful practices of these early companies."

Two "Early Bird" co-chairmen recruited corporations intensively starting in March, causing the early surge, said Larry E. Walton, United Way president. "They have been phenomenal. The two will be our voluntary general chairmen the two years after this year."

They are Scott Wilfong, president of Crestar Bank in Maryland, who will be general chairman in 1999, and Michael E. Waller, publisher and CEO of The Sun, who will direct the effort in 2000.

Donald Hutchinson, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, is the 1998 chairman of the 10-week general drive ending Nov. 10. He will announce his goal in August.

The United Way drive this summer is also signing up more executives -- 90 so far -- who are giving a minimum of $10,000 each. Carrie LeBow, manager of this effort, said the 90 have pledged $1.3 million, for an average of $14,444. Twenty are new recruits to this level of giving, called the "Alexis de Tocqueville Society."

LeBow said she expects the number of executive donors to exceed 200. In 1997, 186 gave $2.5 million, an average of $13,440 each.

The United Way was still working to determine its final campaign figure for last year's drive.

In spring, officials said they fell at least $400,000 short of their goal of $39.1 million, after earlier announcing they had reached that goal. A combination of things was blamed, including an antiquated 1981 computer system. On July 1, the agency switched to a new national United Way software program expected to provide more up-to-date information for this year's drive.

Meanwhile, Walton said, the United Way is continuing its transformation into an agency serving only the neediest and helping the agency's recipients to learn how to measure results and become more accountable.

He said "I'm guessing" that 10 to 20 percent fewer programs than the 302 helped this year will be financed next year. The number and kind of programs to be aided won't be known until spring.

He explained it this way:

Volunteers, rather than United Way staff, continue to make the funding decisions on who gets what. They studied 3,500 to 4,000 responses to a survey sent to 10,000 "front line" community experts, and heard focus groups of the most knowledgeable leaders in several social service fields.

By December, the volunteers will recommend specific priorities to the board of directors. By spring, United Way will name four volunteer groups to manage four areas of need. The topics are expected to include families, youth and emergency services.

The four groups will replace nine committees on hunger and homelessness, health care, family services, youth services, services for persons with disabilities, adult education and work force development, community building, services for the elderly and child care.

Making agencies more accountable is a detailed, lengthy process that will take five years to complete, Walton said. "It's not easy to gauge impact of social programs on the quality of lives."

United Way is training a group of 22 agencies that receive United Way money to learn ways to measure the impact of programs on their clients, in addition to how many get what services. Those 22 will help train other agencies.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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