The CFC appeals to employees and eases the donation process online.
Almost 50 years after President John F. Kennedy signed a 1961 executive order that gave rise to the largest charity drive in the world, the Combined Federal Campaign boasts more than $6 billion in donations. And despite today's economic challenges, officials are hoping for continued success in this year's campaign, which kicked off Sept. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.
"Federal employees have been amazing in terms of raising money for charities through the CFC," says Mark Lambert, director of the CFC at the Office of Personnel Management. "We've set new records . . . in the past five years."
The annual event allows qualifying charities to solicit contributions from federal employees. The campaign's program guide lists short descriptions of each organization, including the percentage of donated funds that cover their administrative costs, to help employees decide how to contribute their money.
Despite the CFC's success, officials are concerned about whether that momentum will continue. Times are difficult for all citizens, CFC officials say, especially given the turbulent economy and the recent string of hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast. The federal workforce faces its own set of challenges as career employees prepare for a presidential transition and as those in the senior ranks, who typically contribute the most to the campaign, inch closer to retirement, officials say.
"It's too early to tell, but I've seen articles and other publications all talking about the tough economic times, and certainly the disasters are not helping either," Lambert says. "I would say our expectations are that it's going to be a tough time to raise funds this year . . . [but] federal employees in the past have surprised me."
Anthony De Cristofaro, executive director of the CFC for the national capital area, says the 2008 campaign is centered on a year of extensive needs. Charities focusing on national and international hurricane relief, health care, as well as consumer credit and mortgage counseling will get emphasis. "These charities are going to be the ones dealing with the personal issues the government is talking about," he says.
Charities received OPM approval to extend their campaigns into January at agencies that are facing high turnover due to the presidential transition. "While we still are encouraging all the campaigns to wrap up by Dec. 15, OPM has allowed us to have extra time to solicit people in order to make sure the campaign raises the maximum we can for the needs that are apparent this year," De Cristofaro says.
Another challenge is the potential corrosion of a solid donor base due to retirements and an influx of new hires and younger workers who might not be familiar with the campaign or have the same purse power. "Some of the studies on younger employees show that they actually are very involved with charities, but it's more in a volunteering capacity than monetary contribution," Lambert says.
OPM has been working to encourage young employees to contribute to the CFC. In a long-term approach, the agency is developing a survey to determine why employees choose or choose not to donate, and to pinpoint any major roadblocks. Lambert acknowledges that student loan debt could be a big reason young employees feel they can't contribute. "Part of the message we want to get out there is that they don't have to give a lot," he says.
The national campaign also has been ramping up online contribution options. "We are reaching out to younger donors with electronic giving options because they are not going to sit down with a 128-page catalog and a pledge card," De Cristofaro says, adding that online alternatives are essential in the 21st century workplace. "As people move to flex time and telecommuting, we have to adjust our systems."
The CFC in Suncoast, Fla., the organization's most successful campaign, is using online donation options to reach out to retired workers as well, says executive director Tony McKenna. Suncoast is piloting two electronic payment systems simultaneously for two years to determine which is better. "If you can get a federal employee before they retire to go to the pledge site, it's going to be really easy for them to donate in the future," he says. "We think this is particularly fruitful because of the huge retiree population."
Some federal agencies, including the CIA, NASA and Navy Federal Credit Union, have established electronic pledge systems, De Cristofaro says. And five years ago, OPM rolled out a pilot project in which employees can log in to Employee Express, an online tool for changing payroll and personnel information, to make donations.
Lambert says OPM is trying to streamline the campaign by automating processes and minimizing the number of charities. The CFC now includes 250 organizations, which raise anywhere from $10,000 to $60 million per year, he says. "We'd like to encourage a merger among those campaigns that are small-dollar but high-expense," Lambert says.
Despite the challenges, charities are hopeful that giving in 2008 will go above and beyond past years. "Even though it's a lousy economy and Florida is in the dregs, we're still shooting for a 25 percent increase," McKenna says. "You find the aggressive feds who want to do a good job and just aim them at your toughest target."