The United Way of Central Maryland is quietly closing the books on a 2002 campaign that was even more difficult than its leaders predicted several months ago - $3 million short of the previous year's fund raising.
After an extension that included late appeals to several new companies, the campaign raised $42 million - far short of the original $47 million goal and 6.7 percent less than the 2001 campaign.
The decline, the first in seven years, means agencies already prepared to get less money from United Way are bracing for further cuts.
"The most important thing about this decline is the bankruptcy and downsizing of some of the largest corporate donors," said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County president who was chairman of the campaign with his wife, Jackie, a vice president at T. Rowe Price.
The top 14 companies normally contributing to United Way came up with $3 million less than in 2001 because of bankruptcies and staff reductions. "They just had fewer people in those companies," Hrabowski said.
Officials say the woes of the United Way of the National Capital Area, which serves Washington and neighboring counties, also hurt their efforts. Donations to that charity plummeted in 2002 after news that it was under federal investigation for financial irregularities.
The Washington United Way's problems have received national attention, giving a boost to some alternative charity campaigns eager to gain access to workplaces. The United Way of Central Maryland recently submitted a bid to run this year's huge charity campaign for government workers in the Washington area, an effort to keep that campaign in the United Way ranks after its sister group in Washington backed away from operating the appeal.
There were bright spots in the 2002 Central Maryland effort, Hrabowski said. Ten people gave at least $100,000 each, up from seven the year before, and 100 companies ran campaigns for the first time. Those included Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, Comcast Cable and the NeighborCare pharmacy chain.
Still, the 127 member agencies that depend on United Way for funding are bracing for more bad news - in a year when government budget cuts and a drop in foundation giving have left them scrambling.
Frank L. Miller Jr., executive director of the American Red Cross of Central Maryland, said the charity has laid off six staffers and canceled planned extensions in school programs, in part because it expects a cut of 15 percent in its United Way take.
"It just causes all of us to step back and go back to what we call our core services," Miller said. And he fears the United Way cuts won't stop there. "I've got a feeling it's going to be impacted more, and I don't blame them."
Hrabowski said the Central Maryland campaign's woes may help raise awareness in the community of the need for individuals to make up for corporate cutbacks.
"I honestly believe that the fact that the economy has been in a downturn and state and federal spending has been cut, that individuals will see the need to be more supportive of those who are challenged in our society," he said.