The top companies in this year's United Way fund drive include an investment brokerage in a fancy downtown building, the state's largest energy company and a struggling blue-collar steel plant at Sparrow's Point. The award for most improved goes to an Ellicott City operation that helps maintain gas pipelines around the country and has recently branched into fiber optics.
All stand out from the pack of 2,228 private companies that contributed to the United Way of Central Maryland this year, leading by example in the campaign, which has a goal of $43 million. The 2000 campaign officially closes this month.
In a telling detail about the world of Baltimore business today, only one - the one that contributed the most money - has its headquarters in Maryland. The others are national or international companies with offices here.
The most successful campaigns were as diverse as the companies that held them. One company kicked off its fund drive by passing out bags of nuts, then approached workers one-on-one and encouraged them to give on the spot. Another wooed its highest-paid employees with letters, e-mails, phone calls and one-on-one pleas. And another helped sponsor a bike ride from New York to Texas that followed the approximate route of one of the gas pipelines that made their company's fortune many years ago.
The money they raised will help combat infant mortality, provide homework help for disadvantaged children and fund programs for job-seekers. It will help those who are blind, those who have cerebral palsy and those who struggle with substance abuse.
The award for the most money raised goes to Constellation Energy Group, says United Way spokeswoman Julie Lincoln. The company's campaign will exceed $2 million in this year's drive for the second year in a row, she says. For this year's campaign, that includes about $1.25 million in employee contributions and $775,000 in corporate contributions, she says.
The company also has the highest participation rate, she says. Although numbers for this year's campaign are not yet in, last year nearly 90 percent of the company's 5,816 employees gave to United Way and the year before, participation was more than 95 percent.
Lincoln says there may be smaller companies with higher participation rates - but it wouldn't be fair to count, say, a company with two employees and a 100 percent participation rate. She did give honorable mention to MBNA Mid-Atlantic - a company that issues credit cards - which is striving for 100 percent participation among its 1,000-plus employees this year.
Mark Case, manager of gas planning and engineering at Constellation and the coordinator of this year's campaign at the company, says the employees are generous because most of them have lived in Baltimore their entire lives. "Part of it is just that our employees have such longevity in the area," he says. "It's important to them. It's a tradition that's been established here for decades and decades."
Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, an investment company, gave the most per capita this year, Lincoln says. Although the campaign is not over, per capita gifts of the company's employees so far are $591.
But the real story, campaign officials say, is that 66 people of the 1,350 who work in the company's Central Maryland branches have given more than $10,000 each to the campaign to join the prestigious Alexis de Tocqueville Society.
"That's Number One in the country for the size of our organization," says Thomas Schweizer, Jr., who headed this year's Alexis de Tocqueville effort for Central Maryland and for his employer, Alex. Brown. Schweizer, himself a member of the Alexis de Tocqueville society, says he researched carefully who could afford to donate such a large sum of money, then approached them through letters, e-mails, phone calls and one-on-one contact. He was determined to break the firm's record of 63 Alexis de Tocqueville members.
In addition to the $10,000 givers, about 60 other employees at the company gave at least $1,000, Lincoln says, helping to bring the firm's total to more than $1 million this year, despite a somewhat low participation rate of about 53 percent.
Schweizer said many employees at the company have continued their commitment to Maryland, even though the company has been bought out twice in recent years and is no longer locally owned. Bankers Trust bought Alex. Brown in 1997 and Deutsche Banc bought Bankers Trust in 1999.
"The story, I think, is that a firm this size, that has been taken over twice ... still has a core of very generous people that live in Maryland and that continue to support the United Way better than anybody else in town," he says.
Legg Mason, another financial services company, came in second with a per capita gift of $473, Lincoln says. Schweizer says that company has about 40 Alexis de Tocqueville givers so far.
An honorable mention for generosity overall, Lincoln says, goes to the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant at Sparrows Point. Despite layoffs and shrinking profits, plant employees continue to give generously each year.
In 1998, the company's 4,880 employees gave an average gift of $207; in 1999, 4,457 employees gave an average gift of $233. Numbers for this year's campaign are not yet available, Lincoln says, but the company has passed the $1 million mark for the fourth consecutive year.
David Fyhr, who coordinated this year's United Way campaign, says the campaign workers approach employees on a one-to-one basis and encourage them to give on the spot. Many companies hold fun events to make money, he says, but that wouldn't work too well at the steel plant. Instead, campaign volunteers pass out bags of peanuts when the campaign begins to alert people that it's time to give money again.
"If you understand the nature of our business, a steel plant spread out over 2,000 acres, it's pretty hard to have a fun event," he says. "We just really can't do that kind of thing. It's just the nature of our business."
The award for most improved campaign, Lincoln says, goes to Williams Gas Pipeline-Transco, a Houston-based company with a 24-person bureau in Ellicott City. Two years ago the company began a sponsored bike ride from New York to Texas to raise money for the United Way. The riders traveled the length of the company's gas pipeline and communications network through New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana before finishing in Texas.
The event raised more than $12 million this year to become the national United Way's largest single fund-raiser in its 110-year history.
Locally, the company raised $450,000 in this year's drive from the bike ride - quadruple what it contributed last year. Half of that money came from corporate headquarters matching what employees had raised themselves.
The company built its fortunes with gas pipelines, but is now branching into fiberoptics networks.
Larry E. Walton, president of the United Way of Central Maryland, says the generosity of this year's winning companies goes beyond the mere dollars they give.
"We have certain companies in our campaign that set the standards for everyone else," he says. "The best thing they do for us, besides raising a lot of money, is they set examples for us to hold up to all the other companies in the area."
Three of United Way's most generous givers:
Constellation Energy Group
Average gift: $225.23
Per capita gift: $201.57
Percent participation: 89.4
Money raised: more than $2 million
Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown
Per capita: $563
Percent participation: 46.7
Money raised: $840,720
Bethlehem Steel Corp. (Sparrows Point plant)
Per capita: $186.83
Percent participation: 90
Money raised: More than $1 million
Source: United Way of Central Maryland
Note: "Per capita" number adjusts for a high volume of people who give $1,000 or more