The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania this month said it had met its 2006 campaign goal by raising more than $52 million. Achieving the local chapter's largest growth since 1987 was a challenge.

But it might not come close to the challenge of carrying out the plans that the local United Way chief, Alba Martinez, has for distributing the dollars it will raise in years to come.

Change is not new to the United Way - and that's good. The organization, especially under Martinez, has moved from a scatter-shot approach to funding local groups, to setting an agenda that addresses some of the region's most pressing needs. United Way will target its discretionary dollars - those not earmarked by donors - to programs it thinks will do the most to meet those needs.

Making progress on the agenda items - early childhood education, after-school activities, job-skills training, the well-being of the region's senior citizens - is absolutely crucial. To reach those goals, United Way of Southeast Pennsylvania will change the way it distributes much of its money beginning in 2008.

With its general funds, United Way will solicit proposals from would-be recipients on what they'd do with the money to meet United Way's priorities. United Way will reward evidence-based approaches that offer clarity about desired results. Some groups will scream. It will be nerve-wracking for groups used to a certain level of United Way funding to have to compete this way.

Martinez says the United Way won't just pull all funding from organizations that have relied on it. Such groups will get transition grants. But accountability will rule.

It's a riskier way for the regional charity to do business. But with risk comes the potential of life-changing reward.