Charity Choices

A Resource for Donors

Does it still pay to do Combined Federal Campaign-Focused Promotion?

Even as the CFC raises less, data suggests that promotion still helps many charities in the CFC

          With CFC donations down significantly since 2017, many charities are wondering if it still makes sense to invest in reaching out to CFC donors.

          Fortunately, starting in 2009, data about how much individual charities raise in the CFC has been public, through the annual reports of the Workplace Giving Alliance, a group of CFC federations. Anyone can go to these reports to see how their charity has done over the years compared to other national/international charities. 

          We’ve been collecting this data for our clients and former clients since 2009.   This has allowed us to do simple analyses for these charities. 

          Doing these analyses has helped us show charities the impact that our guides and other CFC promotion options have had, despite the overall decline in the CFC. 

          You can see and even measure in dollars this impact by focusing on a charity’s rank in relation to other CFC charities.  WGA’s annual reports note how each charity ranks in comparison to every other national/international CFC charity (1,356 in 2019). Here is a chart that shows how much the top 100 charities raised in 2019.  The higher your rank, the more you raised.  The number one charity was St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital, which raised more than $4.3 million.

          Sometimes a charity can raise less in the CFC but it’s rank can go up a lot.

  • For example, in 2017, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Educational Advancement Fund -- which has been in our guides for many years -- raised less money, as did  nearly every CFC charity.  However, it went down much less than the average national CFC charity, and its rank rose from #139 to #111.  Had it gone down as much as the average charity, it would have raised about $18,000 less. (Since 2017, years in which it has continued to be part of our guides, it has continued to improve its ranking, up to #89 by 2019.
  • Another example involves the Heart Disease Research and Aid Fund.  This charity came back into our guides in 2017.  While it raised less in 2017, its rank went up from #345 to #268.  The difference between how much the #345 charity raised in 2017 (American Jewish World Service) and how much the Heart Disease Fund raised (#268) was over $9,000. 

          When you look at the data for all our 2017 charities, the experience of the Heart Disease Research and Aid Fund was typical.  Overall, while most of our charities went down like nearly every charity in 2017, on average they raised $9,000 more. 

          But we don’t want to oversell this one piece of data.  After many years of analyzing CFC data, we’ve learned that we don’t have data on a large enough sample of CFC charities to be definitive.  Given the huge differences in what individual charities raise, adding or subtracting just one charity can make a significant difference. 

          As a result, we’ve focused on the data we have for individual charities.  That’s what this report does: it looks at data for more than two dozen charities. Many have been in our guides for years. Others left our guides, often returning the following year.  A few were new to our guides. 

          What this report shows is that, for many if not most charities, CFC-focused promotion does still make sense.  For these charities, there is a measurable and significant return on investment.  This report looks at data for charities that:

  • Have been part of our guides for many years. 
  • Dropped out of our guides.
  • Were new to our guides and other options.
  • Two charities that do similar work, one that stayed in our guides, one that dropped out (such as two faith-based, international charities: Food For The Poor and World Vision).

          This report also includes our analysis of which types of charities benefit most from investing in CFC promotion, based on the data we've collected over the years. 

Impact over time

          Year to year, many factors influence how much a particular charity raises, such as the order of how charities appear in the CFC catalogs. 

          Given this volatility, it’s been very encouraging for us to see the impact of promotion on charities that have been part of our guides and other options over time.  All of these comparisons look at how these charities have done between 2011 and 2017, a period when they were at least in our CFC charity guides, usually all of our guides.

  • National Parks and Conservation Association, which has been in all our guides plus our Military Insert, has gone from #254 in 2011 to #112 in 2017. 
  • American Kidney Foundation, which has been in all our guides, has gone from #196 in 2011 to #128 in 2017. 
  • Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), in our National Guide through these years, has gone from #328 in 2011 to #280 in 2017.
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness, also in our National Guide through these years, has gone from #456 in 2011 to #171 in 2017.
  • National Park Foundation, which has been in all our guides, has gone from #174 in 2011 to #56 in 2017. 
  • Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, which has been in our guides all these years, has gone from #452 in 2011 to #324 in 2017.
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation, again in all our guides, has gone from #76 in 2011 to #57 in 2017.
  • Defenders of Wildlife, in all our guides and our Special CFC Section from Recreation News, has gone from #424 in 2011 to #293 in 2017. 
  • Samaritan’s Purse, in most of our guides and often in our Military Insert, has gone from #16 in 2011 to #9 in 2017. 

          For each of these charities, you can get a quick estimate of the value of their higher ranks over time.  For example, for Samaritan’s Purse, the difference between #9 and #16 in 2017 was more than $358,000. 

          For National Alliance To End Homelessness, the difference between #456 and #171 in 2017 was nearly $37,000. 

Impact on charities that drop out

          Some of the strongest impact data involves charities that leave our guides in a particular year, especially those that came back in the following year. This article looks at data from 2013-15 for several charities that left our guides and then returned.  In 2014, three large CFC charities that had long been part our guides dropped out.  In 2015, all three came back in. 

  • In 2014, the three went down 33.5% (vs. an overall CFC decline of 7.8%).
  • In 2015, they went up 20.6% (vs. an 8% CFC decline).   

          A more recent example involves two breast cancer charities, the Breast Cancer Research and Assistance Fund and the Breast Cancer Aid and Research Institute.  Both charities were in all our guides in 2016.  The Breast Cancer Research and Assistance Fund stayed in our guides in 2017.  The Breast Cancer Aid Institute dropped out. 

          Both went down in their rankings, as did nearly all health charities in 2017, because of the flow of donations to charities responding directly to the new administration.  But Breast Cancer Research and Assistance Fund (in our guides) did much better.  It went down seven spots in 2017, from 51 to 58.  In contrast, the Aid and Research Institute went down 32 spots, from 76 to 108.

          If the Aid and Research Institute had declined just seven spots to #83, it would have raised nearly $24,000 more. 

  • Food for the Hungry has some of the strongest impact data we’ve ever seen, in part because it has come in and gone out of our guides so many times, which is unusual.  When it dropped out in 2012, its CFC rank went from #290 to #399.  It came back in ’13 and went up in rank.  Then it dropped out in 2014 and went down, from #382 to #457.
  • Nature Conservancy dropped out of our guides after the 2011 CFC.  Between 2012 and 2016, it went from #18 to #22. In 2016, the difference between 18 and 22 was nearly $230,000. Prior to 2012, when it was in our guides, it went from #23 in 2009 to #18 in 2012. 
  • Children’s Hospital and Research Center Foundation did very well from 2009 to 2013, when they were part of all our guides, rising from #363 to #211.  But in 2014 they cut back to just one guide.  Their ranking went from #211 to #346. 
  • Children’s Hunger Relief Fund dropped out in 2014.  It went from #122 to #202, a loss of nearly $80,000. 
  • Food for the Poor left our guides in 2013.  Its ranking went from #54 to #59.  Its CFC donations dropped almost $110,000. When it came back in 2014, its ranking went from #59 to #46.  Had it stayed at #59 that year, it would have raised $72,400 less. 
  • Lutheran World Relief left our guides in 2016.  That year it dropped from #17 to #21.  Its ranking has kept going down since 2016, all the way to #51 in 2020.  It went from raising $627,500 in 2015 to $141,478 in 2020.
  • Make-A-Wish Foundation left our guides in 2018.  In 2017, its rank was #32 and it raised $242,472.  By 2020, its rank had gone down to #51 and it was raising $101,000 less.  Had it stayed at #32 in 2020, it would have raised about $63,000 more. 

Impact on charities new to our guides

While many factors influence how a charity does in a particular year, we’ve seen a lot of strong data showing that coming into our guides can have an immediate impact. 

  • Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry came back into our guides in 2017, a terrible year for the CFC, down 40%.  But Farmers and Hunters actually raised more, from $12,800 to $18,640.  They went from #1095 to #576.
  • Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation came into our guides and Military Insert in 2014.  Between 2014 and 2016, its rank went from #827 to #510. In 2016, the difference between #827 and #510 was more than $15,000. 
  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research came into our guides in 2016.  Its CFC rank went from 29 to 26.  While this is only three spots, in 2016, the difference between #26 and #29 was just over $30,000.
  • The Alliance for Cell and Gene Therapy came into our guides in 2015.  It went from #491 to #403 and raised nearly $16,000 more in CFC donations.  The next year, still in our guides, it went from #403 to #252. Had it stayed at #403, it would have raised $24,500 less.   
  • Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program came into our guides in 2008, before individual charity data became public.  In 2009, its rank was #1,348.  By 2013, it had gone up to #362. This increase in rank was especially notable because these were years that nearly all veterans’ charities went down because of the impact of the Wounded Warrior Project, as this data documents. In 2016, Veterans Consortium dropped out of our guides.  Its rank dropped to #716. 

There is also a lot of data showing positive impact the year a charity comes back into our guides after being out for one year. 

Impact on similar charities

          Another way we often see the impact of CFC-focused promotion is by comparing similar charities, one that has been in our guides and other options for several years, one that dropped out. 

  • One example: the NARAL ProChoice Foundation and the National Abortion Federation. 

The NARAL Foundation has been part of our guides and Military Insert for many years.  The National Abortion Federation dropped out in 2011 and hasn’t returned.  In 2011, the NARAL Foundation raised slightly more money in the CFC ($8,000) than did the National Abortion Federation.  But between 2011 and 2016, the NARAL Foundation ranking went from #402 to #140.  In contrast, the National Abortion Federation’s ranking went down, from #439 to #461.  The difference between being #461 and #140: more than $69,000.

  • CFC data for two large, faith-based, international charities shows a similar impact over time. 

World Vision left our guides in 2010.   Food for the Poor has been in all our guides and other CFC promotion options every year except one.  In 2010, World Vision was #30 in the CFC.  In 2016, it had gone down to #50.  In 2010, Food for the Poor was #63.  By 2016, it had gone up to #48.  It went from raising nearly $380,000 less than World Vision in 2010 to raising $1,600 more in 2016. Between 2017 and 2020, the two charities have stayed almost tied: World Vision's rank has averaged #43; Food For The Poor has averaged #44.  Apart from the CFC, World Vision is nearly twice as large as Food For The Poor, in annual revenue. 

Another faith-based, international charity that’s also continued to use our guides and other options, Samaritan’s Purse, has had a similar trajectory, rising from #17 in 2010 to #8 by 2018, which is where it ranked in 2019 and 2020 as well. 

  • Another example involves five CFC charities that have “Bible” in their names. 

One of these five is Wycliffe Bible Translators, which has been part of our guides for many years while also doing other things to spur CFC donations, such as attending charity fairs.  The other four, such as the Bible League and the Moody Bible Institute, are also large charities but have done little or no CFC promotion. In 2013, Wycliffe raised $68,000 more in CFC donations than the other four combined: $197,500 vs. $129,500.  In the years since 2003, Wycliffe has continued to do well, rising in rank from #112 to #82. 

What does all this data mean?

          Over the years we’ve collected a lot of CFC data because we know that charities need to see the impact of how they spend their limited promotion budgets.  This report focuses mainly on recent data, which includes the CFC’s last two bad years (2016 and 2017).   This earlier report focuses on older data. 

          We think the data makes a strong case for CFC-focused promotion, like our guides and other options.  This said, we want to note three caveats:

  • For many charities cited in this report, being part of Charitable Choices is only part of what they do to increase CFC donations. 

Wycliffe Bible Translators, for example, does other CFC advertising and organized volunteers to attend CFC charity fairs across the country for many years.  Larger media campaigns can also have a big influence on CFC donations, the prime example being the exponential growth of CFC donations to the Wounded Warrior Project, which invests large amounts in national promotion campaigns.

  • A charity’s data in a particular year can be influenced by many factors other than its CFC promotion.

A major disaster occurring during the CFC campaign in the fall, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, can cause many more donations to flow to disaster charities such as the Red Cross. 

Current events can strongly influence CFC donations.  This happened after the 2016 election, when many CFC donations flowed to charities responding to the new administration’s policies, such as the ACLU Foundation. 

Another big factor is placement in the CFC’s catalogs, which changes every year.  A charity can go from page 6 to page 100.  This order is now reflected in search results on the CFC giving site.  

This year-to-year volatility in the CFC is one reason we focus when possible on impact over time.

  • CFC-focused promotion doesn’t work for every CFC charity. 

In the past, a relatively small, not-well-known charity could raise a significant amount through the CFC.  This seems much harder in today’s CFC, which has a lot fewer donors.  One example of this is the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, new to the CFC in 2018.  Promotion didn’t help them raise enough through the CFC to continue paying the CFC’s listing and participation fees in 2019.

          Over the years we’ve found that CFC promotion seems to work best for certain types of charities.

  • Those with a natural constituency in the workplace, such as those focusing on specific diseases or charities working on issues that impact certain people: veterans, women, minorities. 
  • Those working on certain strongly felt issues: animal or environmental protection, abortion, civil rights, extreme poverty and hardship. 
  • Those that already have strong brands.  

          All this said, the impact data for most charities is very strong even in a declining CFC.  It’s what has kept us going: what we do still seems to help many charities and encourage many people to give a lot through the CFC – the average donation in 2021 was nearly $808.