The list of companies severing their ties to the United Way of the National Capital Area now includes more than half a dozen big-name givers, among them Marriott, the World Bank, DynCorp, the International Monetary Fund, Lockheed Martin and several major law firms.
Other companies, including The Washington Post and ExxonMobil, have elected to continue their relationship with the local United Way affiliate, but at the same time are opening their workplace fundraising drives to its competitors.
The charity, which says it collected about $90 million annually in recent years, is struggling to rebound from months of controversy over its spending and management practices. The allegations have prompted federal investigations and led to a shake-up of the organization's leadership.
To be sure, the local United Way still has plenty of corporate backing, including such prominent banks as SunTrust, First Union and Riggs, as well as the large federal workforce, which usually accounts for about half of its donations. But the defections likely will reduce the current fund drive, now entering its second month, by millions of dollars at a time when area nonprofits are coping with government budget cuts and a sluggish economy.
Lockheed Martin employees contributed $2.6 million to the local United Way last year, and the IMF won the organization's Platinum Award, given to groups in which 90 percent of workers donate, for its contribution of $472,000.
Last month, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments urged its members and area employers to support this fall's United Way campaign.
Meanwhile, the local United Way announced yesterday that it is releasing $1 million it withheld from local charities in 1999-2000 to cover pledges that were not received. The money was in excess of what was needed, officials have acknowledged. United Way's interim executive vice president, Robert Egger, said the organization will release its 1997 and 1998 overage when the current fundraising campaign is completed.
Acknowledging concerns over the impact of the loss of corporate backers, Egger, who is on leave from the D.C. Central Kitchen, which he founded, said he hopes to bring the defectors back into the fold shortly. Of more immediate concern, he said, is that some organizations will drop their workplace fundraising altogether, hurting those nonprofits that rely on such giving.
"What I'm keeping an extremely close eye on is corporations -- or anybody -- that have dropped out and have not developed an alternative because I find that unacceptable. . . . We cannot afford a dollar less going to the agencies."
Other organizations that run workplace campaigns do seem to be stepping into the breach.
DynCorp, an information technology service firm that raised $99,000 last year for the local United Way, has asked a competing organization, America's Charities, to manage its drive this year. Lockheed Martin announced a month ago that it would do the same.
"We did not feel that it would be appropriate to ask employees to support the United Way of the National Capital Area in light of recent concerns about the management of the organization," said Jim Campbell, vice president of human resources at DynCorp, which has its local base in Reston.
The nonprofit Inova Health System, which raised $176,000 for United Way last year, will oversee its own payroll fund drive this fall while waiting to see how United Way reorganizes, Inova spokeswoman Lisa Wolfington said.
"People can still give on their own," she said.
Similarly, the World Bank, Marriott International Inc. and the IMF will manage their own local fund drives. IMF spokeswoman Kathleen White said the organization wants "to assure our staff that their donations are put to their best use."
In contrast, the local Enterprise-Rent-a-Car division, is sticking with the United Way. Last year, Enterprise chipped in $275,000 locally, and this week it kicked off its 2002 campaign with a boisterous party at which employees who agreed to donate $500 each could shave the head of a manager.
Even so, the division president, Ed McCarty, said, "I'm obviously concerned that [our total] will be lower than last year, because there are still some people who are very concerned."
In previous years, about 300,000 area employees have given to the National Capital United Way during the annual fall campaign. About $50 million in pledges came from government workers through the Combined Federal Campaign; the remainder was from the private sector.
In September, after a series of damaging revelations of spending improprieties at the local charity, board members approved a series of reforms that included slashing $3 million from a $7.5 million operating budget, reducing its workforce and accepting the resignation of chief executive Norman O. Taylor, who, despite stepping down, remains on the organization's payroll.
When Egger came on board, he pledged to clean house, and some businesses are now waiting to see if he makes good on that promise.
Giant Food, for instance, is delaying its campaign until January to give the charity "an opportunity to demonstrate that all of their problems and issues that they said they were going to address will indeed be resolved," spokesman Barry Scher said yesterday. The company raised about $1 million last year, he said.
The Washington Post Co., which raised $625,000, is giving its employees the option of continuing to use the United Way or giving through America's Charities.
In a letter this week, Post Publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. said the company had delayed its fall campaign while waiting to see how the United Way would address its problems. Jones said Post executives have concluded that it's headed "in the right direction, although it will take time to assess" the full impact.
Taylor's paid-leave status remains a thorny issue, several company spokesmen said.
United Way officials are awaiting a legal opinion about their severance obligations under his $225,000-a-year contract, which runs until February 2004.
Some organizations and business warn that a large payout to Taylor will further fuel donor anger.
"My sense . . . is that if the decision is made to give him a generous severance package, it will hurt the campaign," said lawyer Susan Hoffman, who coordinates giving for local law firms. "And those firms that are on the edge about whether to do a campaign or not, it'll put them in the 'no' column."
As part of its reforms, the United Way is sending $1 million -- in amounts ranging from $3 to about $15,000 -- to more than 1,000 local charities. The money had been withheld to cover uncollected pledges but turned out to be in excess of what was needed.
"It's great to get some good news," said Paula Rothenberg, executive director of the United Arts Organization, which will receive about $15,000. She said the group is bracing for a drop-off in donations this year, so the unexpected funds are appreciated.