This fall’s CFC campaign will be starting about a month later than normal and run into early January for the first time. The official start date is October 2. The actual start date in at least some of the CFC’s 37 regions may be later than this. Normally the campaign starts right after Labor Day.
While the CFC announcement noted that later start and end dates were recommended by the CFC 50 Commission, the CFC process is well behind where it normally is in August. This is the result of the many major changes the CFC is implementing this year.
The CFC’s list of eligible charities is usually distributed to local campaigns in August. But as of mid-August, the application process was not yet finished. The CFC also must complete the appeals process.
As of August 17, the CFC’s new “outreach coordinators” had been hired in 28 of the 36 new CFC “zones.” The others were expected to be hired as early as last Friday. (The 37th CFC zone is the DC-area CFC, which will be keeping the same staff.)
In other words, there is a lot that still needs to happen before the CFC is ready to start.
How will this impact giving this year? Anthony DeCristofaro, the CFC’s Deputy Director, doesn’t think it will hurt overall giving. “The bulk of CFC donations have always come between Veterans’ Day and the end of the year.”
DeCristofaro thinks that extending the campaign into January will help. “By Jan. 12, employees know their share of the cost of their benefits. They know what their net pay will be. They can better decide how much to give.” Early January will also be after the busy holiday season.
Getting end-of-the-year tax deductions are less important in the CFC since most of the money is pledged, meaning it is actually donated the following year, thus it’s deductible on that year’s tax returns.
How the regional campaigns will be managed and run
The Outreach Coordinators replace the previous “Principal Combined Fund Organizations” (primarily local United Ways) that used to run the local campaigns. The number of campaigns (now called “zones” by the CFC) has been reduced from 125 to 37.
The regional campaigns (still overseen by committees of local federal and military employees) will be managed by one of four CFC-approved contractors. These contractors have been competing for contracts to run individual campaigns.
Each regional campaign includes an average of about three local campaigns. Many regional campaigns encompass several states. Regional campaign staff have a lot to do, from pulling together each local campaigns’ databases to training the employees who will be running the CFC in their agencies.
Outreach to charities to organize events such as charity fairs probably won’t begin until later September, according to DeCristofaro, who several years ago ran the DC CFC campaign. “Charities shouldn’t worry if they don’t hear about the regional campaigns’ plans sooner than this.”
Contact information for the regional campaigns will be posted on the page in the CFC website called “Finding Local Campaigns,” through the “campaign locator.” That information probably won’t be available until sometime in September.
The good news for CFC charities is that there should be far fewer charities competing to come to these charity fairs and kick-off events, DeCristofaro said.
This year, with the new up-front fee system for paying the CFC’s costs, only about 10,000 international, national and local charities applied. Nearly 23,900 participated in the 2012 CFC.
DeCristofaro added that there will also be fewer CFC federations this year. Even some local United Ways are not participating since many of their members didn’t raise enough to justify paying the fees.
“Those still in the CFC will get more action,” DeCristofaro said.
Major changes coming in the CFC’s websites, online donation processing, and the search engine
In the past, when employees wanted to search for charities or make an online pledge, they went through their local CFCs’ websites. Their pledges would be processed locally, through the local CFCs’ Principal Combined Fund Organizations, usually local United Ways.
This all changes this fall. The regional campaign websites will primarily be informational, DeCristofaro explained.
All transactions will be done on the central CFC website, managed by the Central Campaign Administrator. The CCA will then distribute donations to the charities. In the past, donations came from each local CFC campaign, going to the CFC federations, which would in turn mail checks to individual charities. For independent charities, checks would come from each CFC, an accounting challenge. This new system should save money.
Employees can still use paper pledge cards to make donations. The pledge cards will be discontinued in five years, when all donations or pledges will be made electronically. Cash donations won’t be collected this year.
When employees want to search charities, they will also go through the central CFC website. Each employee will need to create an account to do a search or make a donation.
How well the CFC’s search function works is critical, especially as the CFC moves to an online-only campaign. In the past, search was done through each local CFC website, which created big problems when “universal giving” was introduced in 2014. Universal giving allowed employees to give to any CFC charity in the country, including local charities.
We documented several cases where a search using the exact name of a national charity resulted in many local charities (from all parts of the country) coming up before the national charity, which sometimes didn’t even get on the initial page of search results. Often the local charities had no obvious connection to the search words.
This year, the CFC will use the search engine developed by the company setting up the central CFC website, TASC, Inc., a large government services contractor. TASC also runs several private company workplace fundraising campaigns. The CFC will use the search engine TASC developed for its private campaigns.
DeCristofaro says that the search engine is “designed to return search results in the same order as in the printed CFC directories.”
This approach could result in a problem similar to what happened in 2014, which hurt national and international CFC charities. The order in which charities appear in the CFC directories changes each year. This year, the first charities will be local, then National/International Organizations, then International Organizations. Within these three groups, the order of the federations (and independent charities) is determined by lottery. Getting on the first couple of pages of the printed directories has long been a boon for CFC charities.
This year, will a search on a particular national charity’s name, say Children International, generate lots of local charities before Children International? This is what happened the last time local charities were listed first.
How will the search engine process the words in each charity’s description to generate results for a more generic search, say, “Charities that help poor people in the Philippines” or “Charities doing research on breast cancer?” Hopefully the fact that search is being done by a company with experience running online fund-raising campaigns will result in an effective, fair search function.
How will the CFC be marketed?
The overall marketing plan is being developed by one of the four companies that will be managing the regional CFC campaigns. It is developing templates for marketing tools such as campaign posters. The regional campaigns will produce printed directories, as in the past. Each directory will include just the local charities in that region (plus all the national and international charities).
In its marketing, will the CFC address the job security concerns many potential CFC donors have? “We’re not taking that head on,” DeCristofaro said. “The focus will be on how employees feel passionate about their causes.”
During the past six years, many believe the big decline in the number of CFC donors has been primarily caused by the challenges federal and military employees have been facing: no cost of living increases for several years, increased payments for health care and pensions, the government shutdown in 2013, and sequesters (short layoffs). Online news stories about CFC declines inevitably generate many comments from employees who say, “What do you expect?” So far, the CFC has not directly addressed these concerns.
Unfortunately, a big selling point for the CFC’s major changes will also not be emphasized this year. The upfront fees -- as well as no longer spending the money to have local federations running local campaigns -- were justified in part by saying that the CFC will be able to tell donors that all their donation goes to their charities, not to pay the CFC’s costs. People like Kal Stein, former director of EarthShare, thought this would be a huge boon for the CFC.
However, the fees won’t cover all the CFC’s costs. A “distribution fee” will also have to be assessed, and it will be based on how much a charity raises in the CFC. In other words, at least some of an employee’s donation will go directly to pay the CFC’s costs.
DeCristofaro says that, as a result, the CFC can’t say that all of a donor’s money will go directly to the charity. Will the CFC at least tout how much more of their donations will go to the charity. DeCristofaro says it won’t, explaining that, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant.”
He believes it’s only fair that charities that receive the most pay the most, which sounds like the argument made by many of the charities that opposed the CFC’s changes when they were proposed in 2013. DeCristofaro was not part of the national CFC office at that time.
How will two million retirees will be integrated into the CFC this fall?
Last fall President Obama signed an executive order that permits the CFC to allow federal and military retirees to make ongoing donations to charities through the CFC. It was unclear whether retirees would be included this year; they will be.
Retirees will have access to the CFC’s new central website, where they can create an account and make a donation. They can have their donation deducted from their annuity, or do a recurring credit card or checking account transaction.
To inform retirees, the CFC will be working through two systems, one that focuses on federal retirees, one for defense retirees. OPM, which runs the CFC, has a Retiree Services Director, who maintains information about all retirees. The CFC will be able to communicate to retirees through this office. The Defense Department has a similar structure and resource. CFC Deputy Director Anthony DeCristofaro said the CFC will also use newsletter and email channels to reach retirees, through things like retiree groups.
DeCristofaro said there is no way to know how much money retirees may donate. He thinks the amount will grow over time, especially since the new system will allow employees who are reitring to simply move their pledge from the payroll deduction system to the retiree pension system.
Many older federal and military employees have a long history of giving through the CFC. Hopefully many of these people will continue contributing through the CFC when they retire or restart their tradition of giving through the CFC.
By Tim Saasta, Director, Charitable Choices. Charitable Choices has been helping charities reach CFC donors for 30 years. It publishes and widely distributes three guides to CFC charities. It also organizes two other ways for CFC charities to communicate their work to donors. And it provides information and advice about the CFC and its changes.
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