Will it be your turn in 2005 to ask United Way for help?

September 01, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

This morning at 7:30 a.m. at Hagerstown's First Christian Church, the United Way of Washington County will kick off its annual Day of Caring.

The event is the start of a fund-raising appeal that runs between now and December. Raising money for charities is never an easy task, but this year it will be tougher than ever.

Why? Because James Taylor, United Way's executive director since 2000, will begin his new job today as head of a larger campaign in Lafayette, Ind. The search for a new local director has begun, but that person won't be on board until Jan. 1.

To fill that void, the campaign has recruited Bill Mann, formerly with Allegheny Power and a long-time volunteer with United Way and its member agencies.


"You learn to take what life throws you, but Bill Mann is very capable," said Robert Ernst, the co-chair of this year's campaign.

Neither man would reveal the goal of this year's campaign, saying it would be announced at today's breakfast. But both said that 2004 will see a different sort of campaign.

For years, Ernst said, the campaign has leaned heavily on the large corporations in this area - Citicorp, Mack Trucks, First Data and the like - for much of its success. Now, Ernst said, there will be an effort to broaden the base.

"We're going to reach out to a group of small businesses that may need a little more persuasion and understanding," he said.

Mann said that just as the county's economic development specialists have increased their concentration on small and mid-size businesses to make the local economy more recession-proof, United Way will do the same.

If 10 employees of a small company can be persuaded to give $2 a week, Mann said, that's $1,000 a year. Multiply that by many small companies and the money begins to add up.

"It spreads out the dependence, so that if one company hits a bump in the road, the campaign isn't on its knees," he said.

To persuade those employees, Mann is arranging to get materials out to those willing to run company campaigns and scheduling agency representatives to tell their stories.

Mann acknowledges that it can be tough for a business owner to talk up the campaign to employees. The last thing United Way wants, Mann said, is for owners or managers to mandate participation.

"All we ask is that they provide a forum for educating their employees," Mann said.

The other major change in how the campaign works is in its leadership. Traditionally, the campaign was headed by a chairperson, often the top executive of a local company.

It was grueling experience, one not everyone was eager to undertake. Now the responsibility will be spread out among a six-member committee.

Each year two members will co-chair the campaign, while the two teams coming behind them will work their way into the top leadership spots.

"It will be Art Callaham and I this year, John Roney and Mike Zampelli next year and then Gary Wright and Rich Reichenbaugh," Ernst said.

Asked if the arrangement will avoid burnout, Ernst said it would.

"Absolutely. Six heads are better than one," he said, adding that by the time the third team becomes the campaign co-chairs, they'll know a lot, including what works and what doesn't.

Does United Way really provide needed services to this community? As a former board member of several United Way agencies and a user of some services, I can say that it does.

Consider this: Several years ago, the United Way embraced something called outcome-based funding. To get funding for next year, an agency has to show that it produced positive outcomes with the cash it got last year.

And who reviews that? Not professional staff, who might be tempted to keep member agencies happy, but a group of volunteers, who ask tough questions before they award any funds.

Those volunteers do the homework I don't have time to do, to determine how to best spend the money that's raised. They also work to see that two agencies aren't wasting funds by duplicating efforts.

United Way's books are open and if you call the agency at 301-739-8200, the staff will arrange to tell you anything you need to know about how your donated dollars will be spent.

About 60,000 local people were served by one agency or another last year, according to Mann. Please give so that if you're the one in need this year, the United Way's member agencies will be ready to provide the help you or your family require.

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