Widen avenue for generosity

October 02, 2003

MARYLAND is not high on the nation's charts of charitable giving. For many here, contributing to worthy causes isn't a habit.

The impulse is there, though. Marylanders reached deep into their pockets to assist victims of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including many first-time charity-givers.

Here, of course, the greater need is for continuing services -- and continuing charity. But after years of rising contributions, including a post-9/11 burst, the United Way of Central Maryland last year took in $3 million less than in 2001. Add that to reduced corporate and foundation donations, blamed on dropping endowments and continuing state budget cuts, and it's tight times for many nonprofit service providers.

Unfortunately, this is also the time -- with high unemployment and more people slipping into poverty -- when demand for assistance grows greatest. And that's not to mention emergencies -- after Tropical Storm Isabel, calls to the United Way's First Call for Help line jumped and member agencies such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and shelters across the region ably served the storm-tossed.

One way to bridge the gap between people's urge to give and their perceived difficulties in doing so is through annual campaigns, such as the United Way's, which continues through the end of the year. Many of the region's larger private companies take advantage of this efficient way to contribute via payroll deduction to a pot that feeds 127 groups across the city and nearby counties.

But most small and midsize firms haven't, and that's too bad. About 49 percent of private-sector workers work for small or medium firms (those that employ from 20 to 250 people), according to the state labor department. It's a fair bet that some of those folks want to contribute in this meaningful way to their communities.

It's easy to open the door -- firms can call 410-547-8000 to learn how. Whether employees walk through that door is up to them, but it's up to employers to give them the option.

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