The United Way kicked off its annual fund drive in most Northern Virginia communities last week, with volunteer leaders hoping for contributions of 15 to 80 percent more than last year, regional officials said.

Overall, United Way groups in Northern Virginia hope to collect more than $2 million for the local charities, service and youth groups that receive funds from the campaign.

Despite the decision by most Northern Virginia groups to seek substantial increases in contributions, some United Way officials concede it may be more difficult to meet their goals this year in the face of continuing economic problems.

"I have a gut feeling it's going to be a problem," said Art Hazlett of the Prince William County United Way. "I'm prepared to face that issue, though I hope to speak around it."

Hazlett and other United Way officials said they are going to base their appeal on the increased needs of agencies funded by United Way.

"People know what these agencies do," said Nancy W. LaValle, director of fund raising for the Alexandria regional office. "They realize the agencies are going to be hurt."

Contributions to United Way are distributed among 60 to 70 agencies in Northern Virginia including the Boy Scouts of America, American Red Cross, Family Services of Northern Virginia, YMCA, YWCA, Travelers Aid Society, American Cancer Society and Mental Health Association of Northern Virginia.

The Loudoun County United Way, which joined the fund drive only two years ago and opens this year's fund drive Sunday, is seeking the biggest jump in funds, setting a goal of about $25,000, or about 80 percent higher than last year, spokeswoman Helen Parker said. The major reason for the large percentage jump is the relatively small collection in its first two years, Parker said.

The Fairfax-Falls Church United Way, which includes Fairfax County and City and Falls Church, is hoping to increase contributions 22 percent to $1,050,000 this year, said an office spokeswoman. Arlington and Alexandria United Way organizations are pushing for 20 percent increases, with Alexandria striving for a goal of $520,000 and Arlington $350,000.

Prince William County United Way officials are trying for a 15 percent increase this year, with a goal of $127,000, officials said.

The United Way campaign in Northern Virginia will run for three months.