Does The United Way Still Have A Way To Go?

Social service agencies are in dire straits because of the United Way, and the United Way still doesn't get it.

The basic problem, as alluded to in "They didn't even give at the office" (Social Issues, Jan. 25), is that donors want the ability to direct their contributions to specific agencies, yet the messages from the agencies delivering the services are not getting through to the donors.

The United Way is presently unwilling to give up its tacit monopoly of the payroll-deduction process. In the early days, the United Way performed a real service. It enabled employees to use payroll deductions and enabled employers to operate a simple system (one field in the payroll system, one check to United Way). Today's technology (computers and payroll systems) no longer requires this degree of control, yet United Way still operates under the old paradigm.

United Way and leading agencies need to get together and figure out how to run a communitywide campaign, where agencies can market directly to donors and donors can contribute by payroll deduction. (United Way says it has donor choice, but not really. Agencies are prevented from, or penalized for, marketing near the time of the campaign.)

Look at those groups marketing directly to donors: Religion was up 7% in 1991 compared with 1990; education, up 7%; arts, up 12%; environment, up 11%. Groups going through United Way-Human Services are down 10%.

It can be done. Without a change, our social-service delivery system is in deep trouble.

George A. Chamberlain III


Regarding your story on the United Way, all I can say is: What arrogance! As always, extremist organizations seek to blame others for their shortcomings, i.e., the recession and other charities. Could it be that the truth is coming out about where the United Way puts its funds? Millions of Americans are appalled when they find their hard-earned money being given to extreme radical movements by the United Way, while at the same time being taken away from organizations such as the Boy Scouts. That is why my family and friends have stopped giving "The United Way."

Rick Longenecker

San Francisco

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