After a year that's already seen two high-profile fundraising appeals, it might have been understandable had the Loudoun United Way scaled back its 2005-06 fundraising campaign.

Instead, the local agency has set a goal that would be challenging even in a less demanding environment: raising $750,000 by April.

That's more than 20 percent above what the Loudoun United Way brought in last year ($614,908) and significantly above the $442,683 raised in 2003.

But Anthony Owens, director of marketing and communications for the United Way of the National Capital Area, presented the task in more personal terms.

"Individuals in our own neighborhoods go through disasters every day, only they don't have the media attention, they don't have celebrities making appeals on their behalf," he said.

The Loudoun United Way began its campaign Tuesday at Market Station in Leesburg, nine days ahead of the start of the National Capital Area's regional campaign.

Owens said of the $750,000 figure: "That is an internal goal . . . but we prefer to measure by standards such as how many homeless people we can care for, how many beds we can provide for spouses in abusive relationships. Not by dollars, but by services."

The climate for giving has grown considerably more challenging this year, Owens admitted. Many local residents have opened their wallets to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami, and even as officials gathered Tuesday for the kickoff ceremony, the potential damage of Hurricane Rita was weighing on Americans' minds.

"We've learned from history," Owens said. "In the aftermath of Sept. 11, [2001,] campaign giving went down because people wanted to help with that disaster. And we want you to give to people in the Gulf Coast region, in addition to also supporting the United Way campaign."

The agency has set up a fund for donations to assist the United Way's Gulf Coast relief efforts -- donors should designate Code 9070 for such gifts.

The Loudoun United Way supports 150 local organizations and programs across the county.