United Way campaign hits $41 million

Last-minute donation from Orioles helps it reach annual goal

March 08, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

The United Way of Central Maryland met its $41 million campaign goal for 1999 yesterday -- minutes before it was scheduled to announce the year's results.

Fresh off the phone with owner Peter G. Angelos securing a last-minute, $350,000 pledge from the Baltimore Orioles, campaign chairman J. Scott Wilfong gave the news to a relieved campaign staff that rewarded him with a standing ovation.

It was the first time the United Way of Central Maryland -- which covers Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties -- passed the $40 million mark, an important psychological goal, said Wilfong, president of the Maryland region of Crestar Bank.

"Even without the Orioles, we were so focused on meeting that $41 million goal to send the message to the community that things are different," he said yesterday.

Wilfong said he thought the campaign had succeeded in attracting more gifts to the organization's "safety net" -- the main pool from which volunteers make awards to United Way's 140 member agencies and affiliates for health and human services.

Despite last year's record $39.4 million campaign, United Way's board was forced to cut allocations from the pool to some of those agencies because gifts earmarked for specific organizations -- some of them private schools and museums that are not United Way members -- had grown substantially.

Final numbers on how many gifts were designated this year won't be available for another month or so, United Way officials said. But in presentations to companies, campaign staff and volunteers tried to reiterate the need for undesignated gifts, with role-playing exercises and a contribution form that hid the designation option on the back.

"It was the underlying message of everything we did," said Larry E. Walton, president of the local United Way. "I'm very anxious to see the numbers."

The campaign had its disappointments. An initiative to start a "Millennium Club" of donors who would contribute $100,000 a year for three years with a match from foundation grants, attracted no takers.

"I think it was a tough concept for people to grab onto," Wilfong said. "The idea of a multi-year gift was a whole new concept to the community."

He said the requests for such gifts did succeed, however, in getting many habitual donors of over $10,000 to agree to increase their gifts -- in some cases, doubling them -- and to commit to at least three years at that level.

The campaign also failed to garner an individual donor at the $250,000 level, a goal the local United Way has had for several years.

Other highlights included:

Ninety-two companies began campaigns for the first time, raising a total of $450,000, which was matched by $100,000 from Crestar. The Alexis de Tocqueville Society, for donors giving $10,000 or more, grew to 260 members, 90 of whom were new members.

Constellation Energy Group, the parent company of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., ran a $2 million campaign for the second straight year. Campaigns by Bethlehem Steel and the United Steelworkers of America, the Johns Hopkins Institutions, the National Security Agency, Northrop Grumman and the Social Security Administration contributed more than $1 million each.

The "Leadership Society," which includes donors of more than $1,000, had 1,228 new members.

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