After Years of Decline, Obama Admin Tries New Approach to Spur Feds’ Annual Giving

Carolyn Kaster/AP

President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to make it easier for federal employees to volunteer at charitable organizations and for retirees to donate to them.

The order adjusts Ronald Reagan era guidance on the Combined Federal Campaign, the federal government’s annual giving drive. Under the new rules, federal workers will be able to make non-monetary pledges to CFC charities by instead committing to donating their time. Some agencies already allow employees to volunteer at CFC organizations and some do not, the program’s Director Keith Willingham said, but none credit the hours toward the annual pledge goals each agency sets. The order will give the Office of Personnel Management -- which oversees CFC -- the authority to allow volunteer hours to count toward program goals.

An OPM spokeswoman said that guidance is forthcoming.

The order will also allow federal retirees to make charitable contributions through their annuities. Many current federal employees donate through an automatic paycheck deduction.

Willingham said CFC has received feedback that some feds who could not afford monetary contributions wanted additional opportunities to give and participate in the program while helping their agencies reach their pledge goals. He added the program could especially benefit millennials, who have expressed more interest in “hands on” contributions. The order is not meant to be “prescriptive,” Willingham said, and will give OPM and agencies flexibility in exactly how they carry it out.

The idea is for agencies to “monetize” the volunteer hours their employees contribute, OPM said, so an estimated value will be given to one hour of volunteer time. Agencies will then use “the total value of volunteer time given by a donor” and add it to their total contributions from all employees for the year.

“These changes will allow more federal, postal and military personnel to give back to their communities, whether through their checkbooks or with their time,” said acting OPM Director Beth Cobert.

She added the annuity deduction change will impact 2 million federal retirees, and allow the government to “raise even more money for these worthy causes from employees that choose to donate over the course of their career and into retirement.”

The changes come from a commission OPM launched on CFC’s 50th anniversary, which issued recommendations in 2012.

Federal employees have donated less money each year since 2009, when feds gave $282.6 million to CFC charities. That figure has fallen annually and dropped to $177.8 million in 2015. 

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