Resignation Charity Begins At Home

  • Share
  • Read Later
In a way, William Aramony was a victim of his own success -- and excess. President of United Way of America for the past 21 years, the energetic Aramony was widely credited with boosting annual receipts from $787 million in 1970 to more than $3 billion in 1990. He had sought and nurtured a lucrative agreement from the National Football League to donate valuable advertising airtime, featuring pro celebrities, during nationally telecast N.F.L. games. But last week, facing embarrassing criticism of his life-style, Aramony abruptly resigned.

The United Way leader's future had been in jeopardy ever since the Washington Post and other news organizations disclosed last month that Aramony was earning $463,000 a year in salary and other benefits, was flying first class on commercial airlines, had occasionally booked flights on the supersonic Concorde and avoided cabs in favor of limousines.

The Post also reported that under Aramony's leadership, the United Way of America created and helped finance several taxable spin-off organizations that provided travel, bulk purchasing and other services to local chapters. One of these companies acquired a $430,000 condominium in Manhattan and a $125,000 apartment in Coral Gables, Fla., for business use by Aramony and his associates. The directors of one spin-off, Sales Service/America, which markets United Way trinkets to local affiliates, hired the boss's son, Robert Aramony, to be its president. The younger Aramony's salary has not been disclosed.

Largely a training and services organization, the United Way of America does not raise much money itself. Instead, it is supported by dues of the 2,100 - chapters around the nation that perform the lion's share of the fund raising and giving. The unseemly image of charity officials living high on the hog threatened to dampen future donations and tarnish the squeaky-clean image of the nation's premier nonreligious charity. By the middle of last week, more than 15 chapters -- including some of the nation's largest, those in San Francisco and New York -- had moved to withhold their annual dues to the national organization pending the outcome of a review of Aramony's procedures by a Washington law firm and an outside investigative firm.

Just days before Aramony resigned, the United Way's executive committee gave him a unanimous vote of confidence. But when philanthropist Walter Annenberg, who donated more than $400,000 to United Way chapters last year, urged him to step down, a psychological dam broke. Aramony submitted his resignation Wednesday night, telling the executive committee in a letter that he was leaving "for the greater good of the organization."

In a video teleconference with more than 90 chapters, Aramony apologized for paying too little "attention to detail or to the way some of my actions could have been perceived." Senior vice president Alan S. Cooper was named acting president a day later.

Aramony's resignation seemed to satisfy local fund raisers -- for the moment. Jim Kercheville, vice president of communications for Mile High United Way in Denver, one of the chapters that withheld dues pending the review, called Aramony's decision to resign courageous. "His contributions are unparalleled, but it's a question of perceptions now. The best thing to do is move on quickly, so we can get on about the business of helping people in need." Even so, the Denver chapter will await the outcome of the internal review before submitting its annual dues.