The headline on this column scares me. Yes, it's true that the annual campaign to raise money for the Montgomery County United Fund is looking good. The Pacesetter portion wrapped up last week and MUFFY Executive Director David Johnson said donations were ahead of the same period a year ago.

Johnson also says that there are some other very encouraging signs.

That's what scares me.

The last thing that anyone needs at this point is the feeling that things are OK, that the generosity and kindness exhibited by so many people to this point, is enough.

It's not.

Just for the record, the annual MUFFY drive went through a period where it generated more than half a million dollars each year. It did so more than a dozen years ago and soared above that magic mark half a dozen or so times. And then the money started shrinking. It dipped below $500,000 and didn't climb back. The organization had to learn to survive on $480,000, then $450,000 and last year, it fell off the edge, finishing around $375,000.

So this year's drive is off to a good start. Please, please, please don't assume that means things are OK. We have a long way to go.

Why does it matter? Whether it's $500,000 or $375,000, what makes the difference? Where does that money go?

Fair questions, all.

If you are considering giving money that you work hard to earn, the least you should get is solid information about where it goes and what it does.

To begin with, I can tell you that I've been lucky enough to have worked with United Ways and United Funds in several communities. They are good organizations. They are frugal. Unlike some groups where things spiral out of control, like AHEAD, the United Funds take their fiduciary responsibility very seriously. They pinch pennies and keep a sharp eye on the dollars you so kindly donate. For MUFFY, more than 90 cents of each dollar historically goes directly to the organizations - which means less than a dime is for administration. To be fair, that number dipped into the eighties a year ago, but that's only because the donations have fallen so far.

So what makes the difference? The easiest answer is jobs and programs. When more than a quarter of the funding is gone, the money simply isn't there to pay staffs and to pay for programs. There have been jobs lost, hours cut and programs dropped in the last few years. Simply put, that means that those who need our help the most aren't getting as much of it. Not even close.

That's why this year is so important. That's why it's scary. A good start does not guarantee a good finish. We need help. We need you.

Montgomery County has such a rich history of helping those in need. Remember when Velma Keesling from the Red Cross used to knock on doors - and the many, many good people who answered? Well, so far this year, that's happening again. The MUFFY drive is off to a good start. It has a long way to go. Please remember that when someone knocks on your door this year.