Donors to the United Way of Central Maryland last year continued to earmark their gifts to agencies outside the organization in large numbers, despite a United Way campaign to attract more money to its pool of member agencies.
Designations to agencies that are not members of United Way made up about 26 percent of the $41 million raised last year - about the same percentage as in 1998, according to final campaign numbers released by the organization yesterday.
In presentations to companies during the last campaign, United Way representatives tried to encourage more giving to the community "safety net" - the pool of agencies to which United Way volunteers distribute undesignated dollars to address a variety of needs. They even placed the line for designating gifts on the back of the 1999 pledge form, angering some member agencies that also were popular designation choices.
Although designations did not drop, Larry E. Walton, president of United Way of Central Maryland, said he was pleased that they did not appreciably rise. He pointed out that many of the designations to agencies outside the United Way came from government campaigns that United Way runs under contract, which are based completely on donor choices.
"We were able to keep it in check," Walton said. "We really sold the message of the community safety net. We saw a lot of people who previously had designated their gift undesignating it."
After the 1998 campaign, the number of outside designations led the United Way board to dip into the organization's endowment to soften cuts to member agencies. Walton said that likely will not be necessary this year.
But, touching on a previous point of dispute, he said a number of private schools continued to attract gifts last year through the Central Maryland United Way, which covers Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties.
Designations to such schools, including Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills and Baltimore's Gilman School, totaled more than $300,000 last year.
"We've still got some schools in there," Walton acknowledged. "That is not the purpose of United Way." He said United Way representatives have been talking to individual donors about such gifts, and that some have started to give directly to the schools instead.
At Associated Black Charities, one of seven large "affiliates" that share in the United Way campaign, the 1999 drive brought in $489,000 - virtually the same amount from United Way as the year before.
Designations to the organization went down by about 10 percent between 1998 and 1999, but continued to make up a large proportion of the total, said Donna Jones Stanley, Associated Black Charities' executive director. Because the campaign coffers rose, the overall amount stayed level.
Stanley said she had been worried that United Way's efforts to discourage designations would "devastate" her organization's total. "We were relieved to see it did not," she said.
Associated Black Charities has been exploring other avenues to make up the money it relied on United Way to provide earlier in its 15-year history. "I think that the United Way is probably doing things in a different way, and it's their prerogative," she said. "What we are planning to do is decrease our dependency even more with fund raising in the community."