Fueling Fundraising

Since he arrived at the Office of Personnel Management in April, Director John Berry has been an active advocate for federal charitable giving. The summer-long Feds Feed Families canned food drive collected more than 1 million pounds of goods for food banks nationwide, and Berry is confident that federal employees of all ages also will deliver for the 2009 Combined Federal Campaign, which kicked off in early September and runs through Dec. 15.

"I've always said that feds are big-hearted people," Berry wrote in a Sept. 18 governmentwide memorandum to chief human capital officers. "The CFC is perhaps the best demonstration of this. Giving is its own reward, and that's why federal workers do it."

Since President John F. Kennedy created the CFC in 1961, it has become the largest workplace charity drive in the country and to date boasts more than $6 billion in donations. In the midst of the nation's recession, the 2008 campaign raised a record $276 million for qualifying charities.

"[We're] cautiously optimistic that we can raise as much as we did last year, or maybe even exceed that amount," says Mark Lambert, director of the Combined Federal Campaign at OPM.

CFC campaigns nationwide are continuing to expand their online systems to simplify the donation process. According to OPM officials, $18 million was collected online in 2008, a 70 percent increase from 2007. Now nearly 36,000 employees contribute online. That option eliminates cumbersome pledge card distribution and collection, and confines sensitive personal information to a secure Web site.

Online giving is also a potential recruiting tool to attract younger donors, a target group for the campaign. "Most of our givers are the older generation of employees who are familiar with the CFC and have been giving to the CFC for many years," says Lambert. "Therefore, we do try to target the younger employees because they tend to be your new hires."

A good way to engage young feds is to involve them in the campaign from the get-go, says Larry Hisle, director of the Heartland CFC, which covers parts of Kansas and Missouri. In this region, interns at the General Services Administration participate on the fundraising committee, and Hisle's team attends new hire training sessions to promote the CFC. Campaigns also are turning to social networking sites like Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn in an attempt to reach younger employees outside of work hours. Heartland invites nonprofits on these sites to "friend" the campaign in order to connect with potential donors.

Many CFCs count on kickoffs and special events to generate excitement about giving. The Heartland campaign sponsors a volunteer day that sends nearly 1,300 federal employees to work on projects at 35 area nonprofits, which allows potential donors to witness firsthand how their dollars are used. This year, instead of organizing one large, costly event, smaller regions and individual agencies hosted charity fairs, speakers and luncheons in addition to other activities for the Kansas City-area kickoff week, held in early October.

The Suncoast CFC in Tampa, Fla., holds beach pizza parties and volunteer fairs with guest speakers and door prizes from local civilian merchants. Many of those events are geared toward the growing population of young military recruits at MacDill Air Force Base. "It's fun to see younger people getting excited about it and realizing that a new Air Force member would rather win a PlayStation than a luxury vacation weekend," says Hillary Jollimore, a Suncoast campaign official.

Younger employees can donate their time rather than their money, says Lambert, by raising awareness about the campaign. Similar to workforce succession planning, involving the next generation in promoting the CFC prepares them to donate when they reach higher pay grades and older personnel have retired.

Campaign officials report that the main thing holding back federal employees from giving isn't financial worry; it's that they aren't familiar with the CFC, and no one has approached them asking for a contribution.

"One of the things we try to impress upon local campaigns is that they should have a goal of 100 percent ask," says Lambert. CFC leaders and volunteers at a minimum should get a pledge card to everyone in their region, Lambert says, though some go above and beyond this suggestion. With a 100 percent "quality contact" goal, the Heartland CFC aims to place information in employees' hands and follows up to answer questions. And to maximize potential giving, reminding feds about community engagement throughout the year doesn't hurt.

"The best way you can really grow your campaign in the long run is to make sure the culture of the campaign is year-round," says Hisle. "While you're soliciting only during the fall period, people need to get involved with the charities out there. It's in their minds throughout the year."

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