WITHOUT GOING into a seasonal treatise on the joys of giving, a few cheery words are in order for the ways in which Greater Washington is approaching -- and responding to -- charitable works. In the past, though individuals as well as local businesses have been most generous, the largest fund-raising organizations did not always function as well as they might have; campaigns were not coordinated and there were not-so-united appeals in which certain groups or jurisdictions felt excluded or shortchanged. But today -- thanks to good direction -- things have improved markedly.

The 1979 United Way/United Black Fund appeal, which now embraces nearly 200 agencies throughout the metropolitan region, has just concluded a banner campaign. Contributions totaled $23.5 million, an all-time record. But just as interesting is the fact the biggest source of increased amounts in this drive was the private sector; though the amount collected through the Combined Federal Campaign, the government-wide collection organization, did increase somewhat, campaign officials attributed the success of this year's drive to the donations from the rest of the community.

Part of this success surely stems from efforts by the United Way/United Black Fund to include recipient agencies that reflect the diversity of assistance sought throughout the neighborhoods of Greater Washington. Also, the continuing search for additional ways to tap philanthropic sources has produced another umbrella fund-raising organization as well as an important agreement to avoid overlapping with the United Way campaign: The Community Foundation of Greater Washington. This group is working with national foundations, corporations and individuals to attract grants for charitable projects in this region -- as a complement to the United Way.

There is a joint agreement between the two groups, said to be the only one of its kind in the 250 American communities that have both a foundation and a United Way organization. This kind of cooperation not only makes organizational sense, but it reassures individuals and businesses that their contributions really are reaching one in every three residents of the area -- and making a constructive difference.