The Charity Network

Local United Way brings together companies to benefit charity as well as business

More than 10 years ago when the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way began looking to step up its fund-raising efforts, it did not have to look much further than the region's growing technology and integrator community.


Today, the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way has made technology and integration companies a central component of its fund-raising efforts. The organization is an independent corporation that purchases services from the nationwide United Way of America.

Meanwhile, the technology community has embraced the local organization's events as strategic gatherings, where executives meet and discuss business, sowing the seeds for future corporate partnerships while working together for charity.

The technology community relationship continues to bear fruit. The 1996 Fairfax-Falls Church United Way fund-raising campaign, which runs from September to mid-December, has already captured $1.8 million. Its goal is to raise $4.3 million.

"There are several reasons why I wanted to be involved with this specific campaign," said James McGuirk, president of Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Division in McLean, Va., and chairman of the 1996 Fairfax-Falls Church campaign.


"First of all, I have a personal belief in the United Way and the different charities it supports. Second, there is a professional constituency that a company has to have with its community. A company must make a commitment to the area where its employees are going to live and work," he said.

"Every United Way is in business to understand [its] own particular community and in the 1980s this area took on a whole new identity," said Joan Ozdogan, regional director for the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way. Ozdogan said infotech companies make up about 30 percent of the area business community.

According to Ozdogan, charity isn't the only reason why infotech and systems integration companies are involved with the United Way.

"As we tried to attract people with top management skills from these companies into our various efforts, it was only natural that they would also begin to communicate about business with each other while they were here," she said.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were programs going on at the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way that did not directly involve charity but instead, focused on developing a network of infotech companies to work together to stay in the community. At this series of "Teaming for Success" receptions, executives from companies such as Boeing, Computer Sciences Corp., PRC Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Unisys came together to discuss how they could survive and prosper.

Today, the Fairfax-Falls Church United Way has become a magnet for infotech industry leaders with smaller companies clambering to associate themselves with the organization and gain access to the strong networking channels that have developed.

At the same time, the local United Way is using this popularity to raise money for its charities. An annual golf tournament, the Business Partnership Open, has been sold out for the past three years. Last year's event raised $30,000 for charity, Ozdogan said. She speculates that golf wasn't the only subject of conversation on the course last year as pairings matched up executives from infotech companies who are doing business together today.

Following in the footsteps of top executives from EDS and PRC, McGuirk was named chairman in April of the 1996 Fairfax-Falls Church Campaign. In this capacity, he is responsible for marshaling support from area companies in the form of finances and volunteers.

The Fairfax-Falls Church United Way estimates that 91 cents of each dollar donated to the 1996 campaign goes to help people in need.

"I don't think that many people would have to look very far into their own lives and the people they know to find someone who is being helped by the United Way," McGuirk said.

One of largest elements of this year's campaign is a loaned executive program where companies donate the time and skills of their professionals to help area United Way offices organize and distribute fund-raising materials. This money is awarded to numerous organizations that must apply to the United Way for grants.

The Fairfax-Falls Church United Way has benefited in other ways from its ties to the infotech industry. Companies have donated everything from desktops to local area networks to the not-for-profit organization, making it a model for other charitable organizations, according to Ozdogan.

While some of the hardware and software donated by infotech companies might be considered obsolete in high-tech corners, it is a boon to organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford such equipment, she said.


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