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United Way won't let setbacks curb drive for $1.9 million

October 24, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

For the United Way of Washington County, 2007 was planned as a year to remember. The charitable appeal that raised its first local dollars in 1957 was going to celebrate its history and try to push the organization to new heights and its goal to a record $1.9 million.

But then after less than two months on the job, Executive Director Dan Greenwald resigned, with Trey Alter, president of the United Way board, saying that the job "wasn't a good fit."

With the campaign about to begin, Alter said it wouldn't be possible to replace Greenwald until at least January.

Then came the second unpleasant surprise - a local firm whose employees have provided substantial contributions in the past has suspended any in-house employee solicitations until at least January.

Tom Newcomer, campaign co-chair, declined to name the company, saying that he hoped to renew the relationship early next year.

Newcomer said that the challenge for the campaign is to get the volunteers more involved and encourage those companies and individuals that haven't participated in the past to get on board this year.

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To do that, Newcomer said he and co-chairman John Barr will have to battle some persistent misinformation about the agency.

The one Newcomer said he's heard lately is that administrative salaries take a great deal of the money collected.

Not true, said Leah Gayman, the campaign's director of resource development. According to Gayman, local expenses are just 12 percent, while the national standard for nonprofits says that percentage shouldn't top 25 percent.

Another set of the facts the campaign must get out, Newcomer said, is "who we fund and what they do. If you look at this list of 25 member agencies, they're all meeting critical needs in the community."

Gayman said that "it's not just about handing out dollars. For a donor, this is the smartest way to give money."

Why is that? Because a few years ago, the United Way of Washington County embraced an idea called "outcome-based funding."

What that means is that the United Way doesn't fund an agency's entire budget, but specific programs. And, if the member agency can't show a positive impact as a result of the dollars it received, the next batch of cash will be a lot harder to get.

United Way also has a committee of volunteers who oversee agency budgets and make sure things such as audits are done in a timely manner and available to the public.

Barr, now the president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, is co-chairing the campaign despite the responsibilities of elected office, in part because United Way is a family tradition. His late father, Jack Barr, was a big supporter of United Way and his sister, Julie Barr-Strasburg, is executive director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

Barr said he feels he has the energy to do both jobs, but said that he would be careful which companies he solicited personally, so that those firms' officials wouldn't perceive it as undue pressure from an elected official.

As part of the United Way's 50th anniversary celebration, officials are asking people who have been helped by the agency over the years to share their stories.

Those can be sent to United Way of Washington County, 33 W. Franklin St., Hagerstown MD 21740, or to United Way stories, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741.

If you don't want your name published, please note that in your letter.

I am a contributor to United Way and have served on the board of three member agencies, one as its president.

I have seen agencies' funds reduced and even seen some dismissed from the group because they couldn't meet United Way's high standards. The required reviews are tough, to make sure your money is well-spent.

These agencies serve a variety of needs, including helping families dealing with a relative with Alzheimer's disease, helping build character in children and providing comfort to those with terminal illnesses.

If the plight of such people doesn't move you, consider your contribution an insurance payment, made now so that when you or someone you know is in need, there will be some help.

Need more information? Call 301-739-8200 or visit the Web site at www.unitedwaywashcounty.org.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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