When we kicked off our annual fund drive for Children's Hospital one year ago. I wrote that it would probably be my last one. In December of 1976 I knew that I had a heart that was running like Jack Benny's 1922 Maxwell, and my male intuition told me that I was starting my last campaign.

It turns out that I was wrong, and I have never in my life been so happy to admit error. The surgeons put a new engine in the Maxwell, and we're about to find out whether it will hold together for one more lap around the track.

Old-time District Liners don't need to be told, but many newcomers arrive in Washington each year, and for their benefit I will explain what we do each Dec. 1 and why we do it.

What we do is solicit funds for Children's Hospital. The reason we do it is that Children's is "the hospital with the built-in-deficit."

When it was chartered more than a century ago, it dedicated itself to the service of indigent children of every race and creed.

No child is ever turned away because of money, or a lack of it. Whether the parents can pay or not, their child is given the same superb treatment and care that any other child would get. The result is a beautiful operating policy, but a hideous operating deficit - a built-in deficit born of a deliberate policy to help those who cannot help themselves.

Last year, area residents did what people have been doing here for more than 100 years. They donated enough money to the hospital to wipe out the annual deficit and give Children's Hospital the green light for another year of service to our children.

A bit more than $175,000 of last year's gifts to the hospital were routed through this column. Many of these contributions were from individuals. Others were from "groups" - sometimes formal organizations, but more often informal or ad hoc groups such as people who work in the same office.

About 30 years ago, an office group decided that it was wasteful for people who see each other every day to send each other holiday greeting cards. Instead of adding to the glut of Christmas mail, these people decided to post one "community card" on their office bulletin board and have everybody in the shop sign it. Then what would otherwise have been spent on intramural cards and postage was sent to me for Children's Hospital.

The idea was a smashing success. Government and private offices all over town immediately borrowed the technique and began raising some astonishing sums of money. Army and Navy installations organized themselves into extremely efficient fund-raisers. Additional help came rolling in from the State Department, Commerce, Agriculture, Interior, Treasury, Justice, retail store personnel, policemen, firefighters, CIA operatives, National Security Agency supersleuths, HEW, Ht D. DOT, NASA, the FBI, the FTC, the ICC, the CAB, the VA, the airlines and a few dozen other groups. And each year the biggest shop in town, C & P Telephone, came through with the biggest gift.

Civic and charitable organizations began sending me contributions for the children from their treasuries. Even members of organizations that are disbanding have disposed of their entire treasury balances by sending in the money for the children.

The column's role in all this is merely to issue frequent reports as the money comes in, so that readers will know which groups participated, how much they contributed, and how the money was raised. Not exchanging holiday cards is only one technique. Some groups hold bake sales, some dances, some raffles. In some offices, the coffee fund is emptied of its year-long profits. A few even turn in money that accumulates in their cuss-boxes. Each year, somebody finds a fascinating new way to raise money.

Each campaign report published here records all these activities. At the end of each report, there is also a sentence that notes how many checks have arrived from individuals (who are never identified by name). Then the total from groups is added to the total from individuals, a tally for the day is arrived at, and this sum is added to the previous day's total. Each day, readers know just where the drive stands.

The arithmetic for these reports is done on my cordless abacus, and thus far there have been no errors either in addition or typography. However, my male intuition tells me that this year my winning streak will end and I will make at least one error in addition - and you know how dependable my male intuition is.