After a small increase in 2020, the Combined Federal Campaign went down about 4% in 2021, raising just over $78 million. After the big declines between 2017 and 2019, this relative stability the past two years is welcome news.
CFC donors increased the average amount they give, up to $808. Donors in DC give even more, an estimated $1,043.* These amounts shows why workplace campaigns continue to be important. Most people give more when they can give throughout the year by using payroll deduction.
The campaign raised less in 2021 because fewer employees made donations: 97,380, compared to 105,729 in 2021. In 2016, the year before the CFC radically changed how the campaign is run, there were 409,275 donors.
This coming fall’s 2022 campaign should benefit from many more employees being back in their offices. As with most giving, person-to-person interaction is crucial.
Another good development: the number of federal government retirees who are giving through the CFC went up more than 25%, to 2,853. The CFC was extended to retirees in 2016.
The DC-area CFC continues to do well, raising $30.9 million in 2021. This comes after an 8.2% increase in DC in 2020. The DC campaign now accounts for more than 38% of all money given through the CFC.
The number of donors giving through the CFC’s online giving website continues to increase, up to nearly 80% of all donors. The total amount given online is even higher: 94%. This is because employees give more online, mainly because they are making payroll deduction pledges. The average online donor last year gave $883, compared to $518 for people using paper pledge cards. This is why it's so important to make sure your charity's official CFC description is written in a way that allows employees searching for charities on the CFC website to find your charity.
The cost to run the CFC went up $700,000 in 2021, to $24.4 million. It was $23.7 million in 2020. In contrast -- before the CFC made its big changes to reduce costs -- the “actual costs” to run the CFC were $21 million in 2015.
The percentage it costs to raise this money has gone up much more: nearly 265%, from 11.8% in 2015 to 31.2% in 2021. This is because the CFC is raising so much less money ($177.8 million in 2015; $78 million in 2021). These costs are paid for by the charities, from the new application and participation fees and the percentage deducted from charities’ CFC donations.
The continuing high cost to run the CFC is one of the most disappointing results of the 2017 changes. These changes were sold largely on the promise that online giving would radically lower the CFC’s costs. Some advocates said that the CFC would be able to tell donors that all their donation went to the charities. These advocates argued that the CFC’s much lower costs would be covered by the new application and participation fees paid by the charities.
To lower costs, the CFC stopped relying on the local charities (mostly United Ways) that ran each local CFC campaign. Instead, it created a network of 36 regional CFCs that would be run by four consulting organizations. And the CFC created a new online giving website, along with an administrative website where charities apply.
These new websites have been a big improvement, for both donors and charities. The administrative website has made the application process for charities much simpler. Websites like these take money to build.
But they've not helped with the bottom line, which is how much is raised, at what cost? In 2016, the year before the changes, the CFC raised $167.1 million. In 2019, three years after the changes, the CFC raised $81, less than half as much. The number of donors fell even more dramatically, from 409,275 in 2016 to 131,692 in 2019. Meanwhile, the cost of running the campaign went up about $4.5 million (from an estimated actual cost of $21.5 million in 2016 to $26.1 million in 2019).
What happened? In 2014, when the CFC's proposed changes were being debated, many charities warned that disinvesting in on-the-ground fund-raising would be disastrous. What made workplace campaigns so effective was one employee -- or one member of the military -- asking another to help CFC charities. The individuals who did the asking -- "keyworkers" in CFC language -- had to be organized and trained. That's where the local charities who ran the local campaigns -- all experienced workplace fund raisers -- came in. They brought the expertise about how to organize workplace campaigns, agency by agency, base by base.
In theory, this still happens, with each of the 36 regional CFCs having a coordinator (who works for one of the four marketing organizations) to help organize local campaigns in their region. But some of the regions span several states. They all involve multiple local campaigns.
Training of keyworkers and others involved in the fundraising also still happens -- online. A lot of the fundraising is done online as well, in virtual charity fairs, where several charities have a few minutes to talk about their work. Having all this in place certainly helped during the pandemic. It's probably why the big declines from 2017-19 stopped.
But unfortunately, the cost of running the CFC has not plummeted, as many change advocates predicted. The hope was the costs would go down after the 3-year contract to develop the websites ended in 2019. They did go down in 2020, by about $2.4 million, or 10%. But they rose again in 2021 and continue to be higher than they were before the 2017 changes.
It's a discouraging story. But at least CFC donations aren't declining as much as they were. The question now is what can be done to rebuild the CFC. That's the subject of our next article.
*After 2019, the CFC campaign reports stopped providing the average dollar amounts given by donors in each CFC region. To project the average amount given in 2021, we multiplied the 2019 DC average ($907) by the percentage amount the average gift nationally had gone up between 2019 and 2021 (15%).