Combined Federal Campaign Plummets For 4th Year

March 28, 2014       Patrick Sullivan      

The 2013 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the workplace giving program for federal employees, dropped 19 percent or almost $50 million from 2012. Giving to the 2013 CFC totaled $209 million, compared to $258.3 million for 2012. The federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the campaign, released figures for nearly all of the local zones.

The CFC has declined every year since 2009, when it stood at $282.6 million, according to the OPM. The campaign dropped about 5 percent in 2012 from 2011, when total giving equaled $272.7 million. Giving trended upward from 2004, when it totaled $256.9 million until 2009. The campaign has declined a total of 26 percent since 2009.

“This is very unusual,” said Marshall Strauss, CEO of the Salem, Mass.-based Workplace Giving Alliance, a consortium of local CFC administrators. “I’ve not looked back half a century, but in my memory, nothing like this has happened. The campaign will be up or down a few percentage points. The last two or three years it has been down a bit, but this is precipitous. It’s a serious drop.”

Strauss said a “perfect storm” of events impacted federal workers’ propensity and ability to give during 2013. The government shutdown occurred in September, just as the CFC was kicking off. Combining that with the general economic environment and turmoil around the budget, translated to a “general lack of confidence on the part of workers that their jobs were secure,” said Strauss. “When your job’s not secure, you’re less likely to give.”

Add those factors up, said Strauss, “and you can say it’s a delightful surprise that so many people did pledge to help others. The resiliency of the campaign is remarkable. Hundreds of thousands of people, and we don’t know exactly how many, have pledged to help, and that is very generous.”

Strauss and the Workplace Giving Alliance surveyed 55 of the 163 local CFC administrators earlier this month. “The reports kept coming back: We’re down. We’re down. We’re down,” said Strauss. Based on those reports, WGA projected an 18 percent drop in total funds. As of this writing, all but one of the local zones had reported 2013 numbers to the OPM.

The OPM has proposed several changes to the CFC, including shifting the administration model from local to regional, implementing an application fee for participating charities, and moving the campaign’s running dates from Sept. 1 through Dec. 15 to Oct. 1 through Jan. 15. Strauss said that while nobody knows precisely, he believes the new regulations have stalled in the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — the agency which reviews the changes after a period of public comment. He said the new regulations are unlikely to go into effect in time for the 2014 CFC.

“It’s disappointing to see this latest drop in giving, but I can’t say I’m terribly surprised,” said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. “Federal employees have seen stagnant wages for years. They’ve been furloughed and they are being attacked and vilified unfairly by zealots who are more concerned with reducing the size of government than they are with serving the common good,” he said. “Can we really expect giving not to decline under those conditions?”

To combat further drops, Strauss advocated a two-pronged approach. “We need to connect donors to the charities,” he said. “We need to lead donors to understand that their gifts matter, and the charities can communicate that most effectively. At the other end, we need top elected officials, starting at the White House, to signal their support.”