United Way banks on white-collar efforts


One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews 1/2 conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. James T. Brady is the general chairman of the 1991 United Way campaign. Brady is a managing partner of the Baltimore office of Arthur Andersen & Co., an international accounting and consulting firm. Brady heads a group of 15 local business executives who determined the goal for the current campaign. The group partly based its figuring on a report done by an economic research group at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Q. Are things worse for the United Way campaign this year and if so, what distinguishes this campaign from others?

A.I think what really distinguished this is the white-collar impact of this recession, and that bears directly on the United Way Campaign, because, as you know, this is a workplace campaign. Seventy-five percent of what we raise in the United Way campaign each year comes from employees of companies in the Central Maryland region. So there is no question that this recession probably has a greater impact on the United Way than any of the ones that have preceded it.

Q. If, as you say, the white collars are the backbone of the campaign, do you expect to reach your goal?

A. I don't mean to imply that the white-collar workers will not give. In fact, I've been very encouraged in this campaign by the reaction of people, given the economic situation. The United Way has a very interesting history. In 1982 and 1974, which were recessionary times as well, the United Way did amazingly well in those campaigns, and my read on that is that people who do have jobs, people who are working, recognize full well that the need is greater and that those in need are geometrically worse off than they would be in other circumstances. So I think people step up to the plate in hard times.

Q. Do you think that because white-collar workers are now being affected and may infact have to use some of United Way services, the need and desire is to give more?

A. I think that's an excellent point. I think without question people now see United Way as being more relevant in their lives. One of the things we've tried to do in this campaign is make it very clear that United Way can be very helpful to people in that situation. It is not just a crisis-intervention organization, but deals with a myriad of situations that average people can feel very comfortable accessing.

Q. Why did United Way decide not to pursue another double-digit goal?

A. It just seemed to us as we were planning the campaign that that was a very unrealistic goal. I felt very strongly myself that if I was going to go to the business community, I had to be credible to them. And at times like this to go in and say we are projecting a 10 percent increase in our campaign while those companies are struggling to make a dollar just seemed like a position that I did not want to take. It just didn't seem as if I had been reading the newspaper.

Q. What increase are you going after?

A. We spent a lot of time coming up with our goal for this year and we did one thing which was new in terms of trying to define that goal. We used the economic research group at the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to do an economic scan for us of the region. And that scan focused on all of the things that were critical to us, primarily employment in the region and what had happened to it in recent times. On the basis of that review, which was sobering I will tell you, we decided that we were going to shoot for a 4 percent increase in this year's campaign. Now let me talk about the 4 percent increase for a moment because one might say, boy, that doesn't sound like much at all. But let me remind everyone of two things. Number one, the national United Way average increase for last year's campaign was 2.2 percent, and the increase in the Central Maryland campaign last year was 3.3 percent. So the 4 percent is not a slam dunk as I like to say. It is one that is going to require a lot of work on our part to achieve, but it is not a goal that we don't have to work real hard to achieve.

Q. What are some of the things that you're going to need to do to get that 4 percent? Are your activities going to be any different?

A. Our emphasis is different this year. This campaign is built on a theme of results and solutions because I have concluded, based on talking to people in the community, that the greatest knowledge need they have is knowledge about how United Way is using the dollars they raise to affect human lives. I started out in this campaign with two assumptions. Number one, people understood the depth and the breadth of the problems in the community.

Unless they don't read newspapers, listen to radio or watch television, I can't believe they don't know that. Number two, I assumed that people cared very deeply about those problems and I believe that implicitly. It left me with the unanswered question of what are you doing with my money, the same question that we are asking governments to answer at this point in time. So we built this campaign on trying to get people to understand that their dollars are making a difference in the lives of people in Central Maryland. Now the best way to do that and what we've done to a far greater extent than any other campaign in the past is get employees of companies to visit the agencies and see for themselves, not listen to Jim Brady, not read it in a brochure, but see for themselves, that there are marvelous things happening in this community and we have done that to a far greater extent than ever before and I would say that in the future we are going to do it even to a greater extent than this year.

Q. If you can't get people to these agencies to see this need, what else can you do to appeal to them?

A. Let me just tell you some of our success stories. Signet Bank has 1,300 employees in the Central Maryland area, 1,000 of them visited agencies in this campaign. Now I'm not suggesting that that percentage applies across the board to all companies, but it is a movement that we're really starting to give momentum to. What we've also done is create a local United Way film this year

which we show at each company which is solution-oriented and has a message of hope. It doesn't make you feel bad. It says, "Yeah, we have problems, but let me show you what we're doing about them. Let me show you some real live situations, some real people who have been helped by United Way and let them tell you the impact of United Way on their lives." Now that is not as good as having people go to the agencies, but I think it gets the message across better than we have in the past.

Q. How long is the campaign?

A. Until the end of January.

Q. How do you keep executives from brow-beating people into giving to the United Way?

A. There's a very thin line between encouraging people to give and having them feel as if they're being forced to give, and I think we encourage all of the companies we deal with to certainly not make it any kind of a condition for employment or advancement or salary recognition or any of that. And quite frankly, I don't think that happens very much at all, but I can tell you that I am not shy in my company. I mean I encourage people very strongly, but I can tell you also that I don't even check to see who gives at the end of it, and that's literally true. I encourage them very, very strongly because I believe that we all have a responsibility to the broader community. And yes, people give to their churches, but I think our responsibilities are broader than that, quite frankly.

Q. At the Baltimore Sun, there's a match campaign where the company will match donations. What percentage of companies are doing that?

A. I'm not sure what the percentage is, but I would say it's probably in the range of 20 percent. We do encourage people to consider that as an option. It makes a lot of sense. I like the feel of it, you know where the company is saying, "Look we're willing to stand behind you and effectively double the impact of your contribution."

Q. I understand last year, there was a big push to identify small and medium-size companies. How is that effort going?

A. Well, it's very difficult. Most of the companies that are in the United Way campaign have a history of being in the campaign, so it's not a sell job to get them to be in the campaign. It's very hard to get a company that's never been involved to be involved. But what we did this year is have a separate team of people with that as their sole responsibility. In the past, it has always been a portion of people's responsibility. We have folks that are totally geared to that objective. Some of the work that Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. did for us suggested that there were 1,800 companies with more than 50 employees in the Central Maryland region who have never had a United Way campaign. And we've gotten some companies with 300 and 400 people who never had a campaign before to be in this campaign. I consider that one of our great, great victories. But this is a long-term objective. We're not going to get it done this year, next year or the year after, but we have to keep pushing because at some point that is going to be the future of the United Way. The companies that are currently giving are going to reach a point where they just can't give any more and if we're going to grow, it has to be because the base grows -- the base in terms of the number of companies.

Q. How did you get involved, or how did you get elected, to be the general chairman?

A. I came to Baltimore six years ago and became involved with United Way immediately because I believe implicitly in the United Way concept. I believe the United Way system is the most effective way to make our community a better place. And that's very important to me. I live here; my family is being raised here and I work here. If this isn't important to me, what is? I was asked to be the campaign chairman this year I guess in the summer of 1990, and I was delighted to be asked. It is an awful lot of work. It has taken a tremendous amount of my time, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. It's been a wonderful experience; I learned a tremendous amount about the community that I hadn't known before and I've come away with a real sense that there are things going on in this community that help the people, one person at a time, that are truly spectacular.

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