United Way shifts tactics

Moving to bolster donor confidence, the United Way of Central Maryland will give $10.5 million to 40 nonprofits over the next 2 1/2 years-- down from roughly 100 groups in years past -- and the recipients must show proof that the money is having an impact on community problems such as homelessness, juvenile delinquency and spousal abuse.

The United Way's new focus affects only contributions from donors who haven't directed it to specific groups, said Larry Walton, chief professional officer of the organization, which covers Baltimore and the five surrounding counties. He said United Way officials worked for months to decide where they could make the most difference, ultimately selecting initiatives that will largely affect children and homeless adults.


Fewer groups are receiving grants but only because of a new policy that sets the floor for funding at no less than $20,000, Walton said. Last year, roughly 100 groups received funding, with some collecting $10,000 or less. The hope, Walton said, is that 2007 recipients will have a greater impact.

"By making targeted and sustained investments, we can make meaningful, long-term progress on important issues facing our communities," Walton said yesterday, hours after the United Way's board of directors voted unanimously to approve 42 grants to 40 organizations. "The board selected outstanding organizations that will help us achieve targeted results."


Groups selected to receive "community impact" grants from the United Way include the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which will receive $157,898 a year to operate two pediatric health clinics; the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training in Baltimore, which will receive $50,000 a year to help veterans find jobs, and the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center in Harford County, which will receive $149,437 to expand its services.

The shift follows a nearly three-year effort by the local organization to reassess its priorities, as well as its responsibilities to donors. As a result, grant recipients will have to track their success in greater detail than ever before, according to United Way officials. They will be required to show more than how many homeless people they fed or sheltered, but how many they helped find permanent housing and employment.

"We are investing in excellent programs designed to address some of the region's most pressing social needs," said Bernard A. Cook, founding partner of the Baltimore law firm Cook & DiFranco and board chairman of the United Way of Central Maryland. "We will hold ourselves accountable for delivering quantifiable outcomes."

However, the new system, which is being adopted by other United Ways across the nation, also comes with a price. By focusing the distribution of undesignated funds to non-profits that serve specific segments of society, the United Way had to stop funding some others, including several well-known nonprofits that work with elderly and disabled individuals.

A comparison of organizations funded this year versus those selected in 2007 shows that several groups -- including the Arc of Baltimore, League for People with Disabilities, and YWCA of Greater Baltimore -- will not receive community impact grants next year.

Several smaller groups will also be affected, including Paul's Place Inc., which serves residents in southwest Baltimore, Chrysalis House, a drug and alcohol treatment center for women in Anne Arundel County, and Good Shepard Center, which serves adolescent girls in Baltimore County.

"We're not happy," said Janice Frey-Angel, chief executive officer of the League for People with Disabilities. "But it's the choice the United Way made."

Frey-Angel said her program will lose about $100,000 in annual contributions from the United Way, money that the nonprofit used to cover operational expenses such as electricity and paper. Frey-Angel said it wasn't the amount of money that was important -- the league's annual budget is $4.5 million -- but the fact that it was unrestricted and could be used for anything. Grant money is usually intended for a specific purpose, such as the purchase of a new van, Frey-Angel said.


"I don't know how we are going to make up for the loss of that money," she said. "We are going to try to have more events, more fundraisers, but we have to compete with the United Way, which is not good."