The United Way of Central Maryland, after two years of slumping campaigns, has set a goal more than 10 percent above the amount raised last year, campaign chairman John A. Saxton announced yesterday.
Last year, the campaign raised $28.4 million, so the $31.3 million goal is an ambitious one in light of the local campaign's recent record and the recession that claimed jobs from the large corporations that have always been its bread and butter.
"A 10 percent increase would get us back to the giving we had two years ago," Mr. Saxton, a vice president at Procter & Gamble Co., acknowledged as the 1994 campaign started at private companies in the metropolitan area.
The United Way once commonly sought 10 percent increases and seemed to have no trouble raising more and more money in the late 1980s.
But in 1991, hampered by a recession that claimed an estimated 14,000 jobs from its major donors, the United Way fell short of its goal, raising less than in the previous year's campaign.
Then, the 1992 campaign felt the effects of the state's weak economy and the bad publicity generated by the ouster of William Aramony, who headed United Way of America.
The regional United Way, which raises funds for 100 nonprofit organizations and takes a cut of the total to cover its costs, would be back at its 1991 level if it reached this year's goal.
Mr. Saxton said there is some evidence that United Way can reverse its slide. Though overall giving was down last year, he said, those who did contribute gave an average of 17 percent more per person. More contributors joined the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, reserved for those who donate $10,000 or more.
And, in a "pace-setter" campaign at Mr. Saxton's company conducted as a trial run for the campaign, contributions were 13 percent higher than in last year's effort at Procter & Gamble, Mr. Saxton said.
In a shift of emphasis, Mr. Saxton spoke not at the kickoff $H breakfast but from one of the United Way "Day of Caring" sites. More than 1,000 United Way volunteers spent the day at 87 nonprofit agencies testing children for vision problems, building playgrounds, landscaping grounds.
Mr. Saxton -- whose predecessors have attended United Way events garbed as old-time railroad workers or, in one case, as a clown -- showed up at Steuart Hill Elementary School in Southwest Baltimore in jeans, sneakers and a denim shirt. He then helped Audrey Novak of the Maryland Society to Prevent Blindness screen children for amblyopia, sometimes called "lazy eye" syndrome.
The Society to Prevent Blindness is typical of many of the smaller agencies that rely on United Way funds. The $35,000 it received last year made up 60 percent of its overall budget, which helped the agency screen almost 7,000 children.
Throughout the region, an estimated 700,000 families receive services from United Way agencies.