Advisory committee looks for ways to improve charity drive

Developing better technology and collecting more data on potential donors are among suggestions.

Including retired federal employees, removing geographic restrictions and reducing administrative costs were some of the many ideas floated to improve the Combined Federal Campaign at the CFC-50 advisory committee's first meeting on Tuesday.

Announced Sept. 7, the committee will review the charity drive, now in its 50th year, and report to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on ways to strengthen the fundraiser.

Former Reps. Beverly Byron, D-Md., and Tom Davis, R-Va., are co-chairing the panel, which includes federal employees, representatives from charities, and watchdogs from the private sector.

With a deadline of March 31, the group has more than six months to address declining participation in the CFC. While the average gift has gone up, resulting in inflated record levels of money raised, participation has dropped during the past 20 years, with a loss of 400,000 donors in the last decade alone, said Kal Stein, committee member and executive director of the nonprofit EarthShare.

Panel members noted the vast selection of participating charities -- roughly 25,000 local and national organizations -- might prove overwhelming and drive away potential donors. Campaign awareness was cited as another problem.

"I was a fed for three years before I knew about this," committee member and federal employee Karissa DeCarlo said.

Jean Brown, director of the Chicago coordinating committee, said volunteer participation is also declining due to lack of awareness.

The committee felt technology will help draw more donations. CFC Director Keith Willingham revealed OPM is working on creating a universal Web platform for donations, and will likely beta test it in 2013. Technology also is key to reporting results more efficiently.

"How can we push more information out faster, and how can we get that feedback out to everyone?" Willingham said. "It currently takes two and half months. We got to be faster."

Other members suggested surveying both donors and non-donors to find out why they give, why not, and what their concerns are, and using that data to improve the campaign.

"We are hunting the donor unarmed," said Art Taylor, executive director for BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

The meeting was only a starting point. Over the next six months, the group plans to break into separate subcommittees to discuss the challenges and solutions in greater detail.

NEXT STORY: Kumbaya on Disaster Funds?