CFC: Fed charity drive aims to raise millions for less fortunate—but it all depends on you!
- By Nathan Abse
- Sep 26, 2019
Since the early 1960s, federal employees have participated in an annual outpouring of goodwill and generosity called the Combined Federal Campaign—raising over $8 billion for thousands of charities and nonprofit organizations over the last six decades. Each year, fun and informative CFC events and publicity focus feds on the needs of others, connecting them with thousands of good organizations, made more readily accessible via CFC’s resources—everything from the campaign’s latest online portals to its old-fashioned paper catalogs and forms. These resources provide feds trustworthy information on organizations, and make it easy to volunteer hours and donate money—often transacted as steady, ongoing payroll deductions. Despite spectacular success over the long haul, CFC leadership in recent times has faced pared-down federal giving. Some see the problem as part of a similar trend across American society—while others fault specifically federal issues: a decade of modest federal pay raises punctuated by pay freezes. In any case, CFC says it sees solutions to the problem, and new growth in giving ahead, in part by making participation ever more convenient for feds. Federal employee generosity remains impressive. Last year the CFC raised some $93 million overall—with the CFC-National Capital Area (CFCNCA) alone pulling in $34 million of the total—as well as 56,000 volunteer hours. The average donation in the capital area for 2018 was $817, and nationwide, $592. Nathan Abse recently interviewed Vince Micone—a longtime DHS official who also heads the CFCNCA—at the fund drive’s annual kickoff event on the National Mall, an event filled with dynamic speakers, live music and energetic feds connecting with equally effective charity representatives.
Q&A with Vince Micone
How much money does CFC-National Capital Area typically raise in recent years?
Micone: Last year we at CFCNCA raised $34.2 million—that’s just in the national capital area, remember. Of course, feds are who gets it all going—it’s voluntary. They pick the charities that they care about, and they make their contributions. They can do it as one-time contributions, through a credit card. Or they can go to the online portal and pick charities that they want to give to through ongoing payroll deductions.
Many observers are concerned that feds give less in recent years—and CFC fundraising has leveled off and even dropped in many areas, right?
Micone: I don’t think overall giving actually has leveled off. I think people are simply giving differently than they did, say, five or ten years ago. For instance, every time you go on social media—Facebook or something—and it’s a friend’s birthday, let’s say. You’ll see a pop-up asking you, “Don’t wish me a happy birthday, just give money to this or that organization that’s important to me.” And people actually follow through, and do that. So, to a certain degree, traditional means of giving, by our campaign and other such campaigns, well, there’s just more competition out there for us. That means we have to work harder—and tell our donors of the importance of what we’re doing at CFC, and how it’s cost effective and its many advantages. The main thing is, I’ll tell you, at the end of the day my goal is to get people to think about giving and volunteering—and I think the CFC is the most cost-effective way to do that. It’s especially helpful in getting charities a stream of regular money coming in, throughout the year—and that has tremendous impact. But, yes, if someone gives through that pop-up ad—or that sort of thing too, as long as people are doing that—that’s also important.
Ok—so, feds give many different ways these days! But you at CFC emphasize the advantage of giving through the campaign: steady, small payroll deductions let charities have steady money, helping them plan better, and deal with unexpected crises?
Micone: Yes, that’s right. For instance, recently organizations had to help fast when people were hit with Hurricane Dorian.
Feds are already motivated by public service, so does is it easier to raise donations from them?
Micone: I think, as I said, the ways people give is changing. And we at CFC have learned, especially in the past couple of years, about better ways to reach out in ways that are easier and more meaningful to federal employees. If you think about it, five years ago, almost all we did was to run newspaper ads. In fact, until this year, we used the Washington Post “Express” most to talk about our campaigns. But the media picture is changing rapidly, and we now have a structure that we are working on, along with OPM, to modernize all this. Now, we’re making it even easier for employees to give—helping employees to understand that our [online] portals and tools are completely safe, and also that our charities have been vetted every year. So, what we’ve done over the past couple of years is, really, to completely change—not really the giving itself, but the tools that we use for giving, and the way we communicate about the campaign.
Having said all that—that you’ve changed the tools—has fed giving behavior changed a fair bit?
Micone: Actually, yes, the ways that people give through the CFC have changed—dramatically. For most people who participated in CFC, you used to get a piece of paper on your desk along with a catalog of charity organizations. You would look through that catalog and fill it out and give it to your key worker, and that is just how it was done. But, nowadays, we know a paper catalog containing 7,000 organizations is really hard to use for a meaningful search of organizations—or to help you find organizations you’re not even aware of. Now, in addition to moving away from paper for most people, OPM also has changed the way they manage the CFC campaign. It used to be that there were a lot of local campaigns, each with its own structure. But that was not a very effective way to manage things. So, for past couple of years, we have combined those [local and regional] resources, and we’ve put together a single, slick, organized and easy-to-use portal that people can use to make their donations. Now, instead of having maybe 50 or 60 of these portals, from all around the country, we now have one. It’s a much more streamlined way of getting to giving, going through the same portal. Whether you are in Washington, D.C. or Washington State, everyone goes to the same place.
How have these changes actually aided feds and retirees to give in the CFC?
Micone: I think so, yes. First, with these and other changes we’ve made shopping for a charity much easier for employees. Second, we’ve diversified how we message and talk to employees about the campaign—by using social media in ways we never did before.
But even as you are modernizing CFC, you’ve kept up many legacy systems—like the catalogs, too—why?
Micone: To answer that, you just have to look at the federal workforce. You’ve got such a wide range. You have Baby Boomers, and millennials, and then the younger generations. How we communicate with each of the different generations has to be pretty different. We’re using everything we have available to accomplish this. Then when you think about the different jobs people do—when you think about it, if you are a Postal Service person, or a TSA person working at an airport, you’re not at your computer all the time, right? In fact, you’re never at your computer! So, we still have the catalog and pledge cards, you see?
How do individual gifts—like one-time gifts—compare with ongoing gifts out of payroll deductions?
Micone: People who give through payroll deduction tend to give larger gifts. This is an important thing about the campaign: it all adds up—all of the dollars given by individual employees tend to pool up fast, and that means that charities tend to get a larger bucket of money [from our campaign], which allows them to provide more services, more efficiently. When you have more money, you just are much more efficient—and you can have a much greater impact.
CFC givers donate to a tremendous diversity of charities, don’t they?
Micone: Yes. There are literally thousands to choose from—7,000 or so organizations to choose from. I tell folks, “If you can’t find something from that catalog or online listing that you care about, give me a call and I will help you with your search parameters—and we’ll find something you’ll want to give to!” Usually, people give to a cause involving something that has affected them or their family. It’s what they care about. I love animals—and pets. So, I give there. My family was affected by cancer. So, there are a few organizations I give to there. And I’m very concerned that people in our city here, D.C., have a warm place to sleep at night and get decent food to eat. I always give along these lines. I search for organizations that work in these areas. But, frankly, organizations change over time. I might find a new organization that is doing something different this year—and the CFC’s tremendous information resources are valuable here. But, as to what I give to, I always go back to groups that work in the areas that matter to me most.
Let’s talk briefly about the CFCNCA kickoff event; it’s changed a lot over the years—how is it that nowadays, it’s in the beautiful Smithsonian Arts & Crafts building, on the National Mall?
Micone: Yes, right. For the kickoff event, use of this Smithsonian facility has been given to us. We’ve changed the campaign, and we’re working even harder to save money. It’s donated space for us. In the old days, we’d be in a hotel—we’d have to rent and pay for that. Yet today, you notice we have all these people here, and we didn’t have to pay for food or anything like that. People come here because they care, and they want to participate. We also provide a program that’s interesting, that talks about issues, that lets people meet people in the charities, and learn all about the campaign—and we do all this at a very low cost.
Who is here today, in the audience, and why were they invited?
Micone: All federal employees [and federal retirees] are welcome to come to the event. They simply have to register first. Now, in organizing the event, we targeted key workers and campaign managers, sort of our agency leaders in the drive—those who will do the heavy lifting of running the CFC back at their agencies. Our focus, of course, is on motivating folks, and helping our CFC leaders have the tools they need to successfully run their own campaigns at the agencies.
Micone chairs the CFCNCA. Peace Corps Director Josephine “Jody” Olsen is the Honorary Chair of the national-level CFC for 2019.