ROBERT D. KUNISCH, the chief executive officer of PHH Corporation in Hunt Valley, had an idea for bringing new donors to United Way of Central Maryland: PHH would encourage 90 of its vendors and clients to urge their employees to become supporters of the regional aid agency.
Mr. Kunisch's "cluster" suggestion is now a pilot program for the United Way campaign that began last Sept. 14 and continues through Dec. 11. If successful, other big companies will lead clusters during next year's fund-raising effort.
This is one example of how United Way aims to adapt to changing times. The economy has improved and workers feel comfortable again about giving to charities. But after corporate downsizing has reduced the number of potential donors in the workplace, United Way officials know they must hustle to keep the contributions coming. Another possible new method they're considering is signing on to computer networks such as the Internet to recruit donors and advertise United Way services.
Meanwhile, need is unrelenting and, in fact, worse in some areas. In PHH's home jurisdiction of Baltimore County, the demand for social services has climbed steadily since the late 1980s, when the migration of low-income city residents to the county began to intensify.
According to 1994 figures provided by United Way, 2,575 people were served in Baltimore County homeless shelters -- almost 500 more people than in 1993. Service limitations forced 1,638 people seeking shelter to be turned away. Sadly, the youngest residents are among the neediest. Of the people served in county homeless shelters last year, 38 percent were children. More than 10,000 county children live below the poverty line. In 1994, there were 924 reported cases of neglect and physical and sexual abuse of children in Baltimore County. What's more, the county's senior population continues to grow at one of the fastest rates in the nation.
United Way returned $3.47 million to Baltimore County government agencies and private aid organizations last year, helping the bodies and spirits of more than 454,000 county residents. Efficient, effective, easy to donate to (through payroll deduction), United Way makes a difference. It certainly did last year in Baltimore County -- some 454,000 times.