United Way sets '04 goal of $40.4 million

Fund-raising group hopes to attract new donors by limiting recipients to poor

August 31, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

After two years of getting battered by corporate cutbacks and a drooping stock market, the United Way of Central Maryland announced yesterday that it hopes to raise $40.4 million this year, about 2 percent more than last.

Larry Walton, president of the fund-raising organization, said he hopes to attract more first-time donors by emphasizing the United Way's original mission, helping the poor.

For the first time in the fall, the area branch of the United Way will not accept donations directed to private schools, arts organizations or churches, Walton said.

"It's not the United Way's goal to help private schools," said Walton. "We decided to stick strictly to health and human services ... and we are asking every company to step up and help us, because with all the government cutbacks to these services, we need donations more than ever."

The local branch of the United Way is also working to reassure donors that it has safeguards in place to prevent the kind of theft that nearly destroyed the United Way of the National Capital Area.

A federal judge in May sentenced Oral Suer, who ran the Washington-area charity, to 27 months in prison for defrauding the charity of almost $500,000 that he used for trips to Las Vegas, bowling equipment and other personal expenses.

Although this crime had nothing to do with the Baltimore-based charity, the negative publicity drove away an estimated $1 million in donations last year, Walton said.

Also difficult for the local charity, which relies on payroll deductions by employees at area companies, have been corporate buyouts that shrank work forces at several area companies.

As a result, the local United Way fell more than $2 million short of its goal of $42 million last year, and it fell about $1.5 million short of its $43.5 million goal in 2002, Walton said. To help offset the losses, the nonprofit over the past year has laid off 21 full-time and eight part-time employees from its work force of 108, he said.

"We took a hit, but now we're back on track and trying to get the train rolling back uphill," said Walton.

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