Don't forget those most in need

United Way: Designated giving means some of the organization's 140 member agencies will receive less.

June 05, 1999

UNITED WAY of Central Maryland is wrestling with a difficult situation. Even though it collected a record $39.4 million in 1998, donors designated a record amount to groups outside the umbrella organization's 140 member agencies. As a result, United Way must reduce contributions to member agencies by as much as $1 million.

Despite this development, United Way is not about to do away with the designation feature, adopted nearly two decades ago. With one-fifth of this year's contributions designated for nonmember organizations, the feature is quite popular with donors.

They are able to take advantage of United Way's payroll deduction, a relatively painless way of giving, and also earmark contributions to their favorite nonmember nonprofits. The problem this creates is not unique to Baltimore. United Ways from Richmond to San Diego are wrestling with the issue.

United Way President Larry E. Walton correctly points out that today people expect choices in everything they do, from the 90 cable channels on their televisions to two dozen types of coffee at the local java bar. The same is true for their philanthropy.

In the past year, designations were directed to about 2,000 nonmember organizations, from the Kennedy-Krieger Institute to local volunteer fire and rescue companies. Rather than curb choices, United Way wants its donors to be sure to set aside some of their gifts for undesignated needs.

Officials do not believe that donors are intentionally shunning the United Way's traditional social service agencies. Rather, they must now compete with a plethora of deserving groups. In the Baltimore area alone, 75 nonprofit groups are created each month. United Way's task is to educate donors that its core mission remains to finance groups that serve those in need. That obligation is still very much with us.

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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