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'Soul-Searching at United Way'

May 18, 1986

I was appalled by the article written by David Johnston on April 10 regarding the United Way ("Expected '86 Shortfall Intensifies Soul-Searching at L.A. United Way"). I'm appalled particularly because aside from the obvious bias and need for journalistic overstatement, Johnston's article illustrates total lack of understanding or insight about (1) the nature of the Los Angeles community, (2) the problems of organized philanthropy in this community, (3) the role of community leadership, and (4) a sense of history of what has preceded the United Way of 1986.

Johnston also readily places the total responsibility for United Way's failures on Frank McNamara, the chief professional officer. He fails to recognize the role of community leadership, including that of the Los Angeles Times.

Johnston, in his article, also ignores a series of facts--facts that are there because of the professional leadership Frank McNamara has provided to this United Way.

Fact: The United Way of Greater Los Angeles has embarked on a most complicated organizational effort to decentralize, to regionalize and to place decision-making in the hands of the grass roots. Johnston fails to mention, for example, that all allocations decisions are made on a regional basis--far from the control of either McNamara or the top volunteer leadership of United Way.

Fact: This community some 15 and 20 years ago had a number of small United Ways and Community Chests. That number contributed not only to gross inefficiency and ineffectiveness, but to an atmosphere of divisiveness within the philanthropic community. McNamara's leadership has made it possible for there to be one United Way, molding this great community of Los Angeles into one philanthropic effort.

Fact: Until several years ago, even as referenced by Johnston, there were two competitive fund-raising organizations: the United Way and AID. McNamara's leadership brought those two organizations together into one integrated fund-raising organization.

Fact: The creative effort at bringing health agencies into a unique partnership arrangement with United Way has further contributed to the sense of one philanthropic community under the banner of United Way. This came about only because of McNamara's vision, his energy and his creativity.

Fact: This community has witnessed an enormous effort utilizing public monies granted under the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, authorized by the Congress of the United States. The ability to utilize those funds was organized and implemented by United Way, again under the professional leadership of Frank McNamara. There were zero overhead costs to the recipients of these much-needed services because of McNamara's ability to organize and use existing resources of the United Way and its agencies.

It's interesting to note that none of these facts has ever appeared on the pages of The Times.

I am the executive of a United Way agency. I have my differences with Frank McNamara. I find, however, that his office is open, his telephone line is open, and he has the unique ability to create a climate where differences among agencies' leadership can be discussed and resolved.

I would suggest similarly that David Johnston turn his attention to what United Way has provided for this community of Los Angeles--how many individuals, how many groups, how many organizations have benefited directly from the United Way effort. Then I think Johnston would provide a true service to the people of Los Angeles.


Executive Vice President

Jewish Federation Council

of Greater Los Angeles

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