In these tough economic times, it's easy to understand why seven United Way agencies serving the Philadelphia region have decided to merge.

The merger that takes effect July 1 will include the United Ways of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southeast Delaware County, and New Jersey's Atlantic County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, and Greater Cumberland County. They announced plans Monday to form a single organization to raise millions of dollars, mobilize volunteers, and set an agenda to address the region's most pressing needs.

It sounds like an excellent idea. But as Jill Michal, president and CEO of the new United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, said, "There are a lot of details to be worked out." It was unclear, for example, whether some services and offices would be consolidated, which might mean staff reductions.

Each chapter will continue to conduct its own annual fund-raising campaign, according to Michal. The seven chapters separately raised $60 million during the 2010-11 campaign season.

The merger will make regional fund-raising campaigns possible under a single entity, which should make it easier for businesses to support programs across geographical boundaries in the seven counties.

Michal said the merger would not affect the current grant commitments United Way has made to fund after-school activities, job training, and other local programs. No changes are expected either in the formula currently used to distribute funds.

United Way showed it was not afraid to change to reflect these leaner times when it adopted that formula in 2008, rewarding evidence-based approaches to serving the community and holding recipients accountable.

This merger can be even more beneficial to all the people who depend on United Way-funded agencies for support. Once all the questions are answered, there should be no looking back.