The workplace giving program for federal employees reported a 19-percent decline last year, the fourth straight year that it has dropped. The 2013 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) totaled $209.1 million, down almost $50 million from $258.3 million the previous year, according to figures recently released by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees the program.
The CFC stood at $282.6 million in 2009 but has declined every year and is down 26 percent since that time. The campaign dropped 5 percent in 2012 from 2011, when giving totaled $272.7 million.
“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,” he said. Based on those reports, WGA projected an 18 percent drop in total funds.
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 (NCRP) 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.”