THE GOOD NEWS is that the United Way of Central Maryland met its modestly ambitious goal of $41 million in payroll deduction pledges in last year's campaign.
This was the first time the campaign topped $40 million, including the campaigns in the private sector and government workplaces. That's a 4.2 percent gain over the year before, or a little ahead of inflation. The regional safety net is stronger as a result.
Community gratitude is due the Baltimore Orioles. The club's principal owner, Peter G. Angelos, pledged a $350,000 corporate gift in the final hour to insure the goal would be met. It may be only spring training and the fan base for the coming season is assured, but they poked one out of the park for the good of the region.
Last year the United Way of Central Maryland wasn't able to funnel all the money that volunteers had allocated to selected agencies. So much of the money was designated to worthy nonprofits outside the United Way's list that not enough remained.
Such gifts are fine. But the United Way still hopes to have undesignated funds that it can allocate, without which it cannot make good to member agencies, which are closely scrutinized by United Way volunteers.
To pass the $40 million mark in 1999 was important, because gains should be possible in a boom year with full employment and a soaring stock market. The year 2000 is shaping up as a mature part of the business cycle, in which demands on human needs agencies will increase and generosity may be a little harder to come by.
Hitting $41 million in annual pledges does not yet put Central Maryland among the more philanthropic metropolitan areas in the United States. But it is a welcome and vigorous step forward. Congratulations to all involved.