Feds talk: Why did they donate less to the federal charity drive last year?

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Federal workers donated significantly less to the government’s annual charity drive last year compared to 2012.

Contributions to the Combined Federal Campaign fell by nearly 19 percent in 2013, while the number of participants dropped by about 23 percent during the same period.

Last week, we asked federal employees to answer a few survey questions to help us understand why the numbers declined.

Federal employees: Why have your CFC donations declined?

Many respondents told us they decided not to participate in the campaign because the government halted their annual pay increases for three years — President Obama froze the pay rates for two years starting in 2011, and Congress extended the hold through 2013.

Tracy Barber, who works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., said she stopped donating in large part because her financial situation has deteriorated. “With no raises in the past five years and with housing, food and taxes increasing each year, there was no margin left in my budget to contribute bi-weekly,” she said.

Barber added that she plans to donate this year, after adjusting her personal budget. “I am blessed to have this job, and the CFC gives me an opportunity to locate and donate to worthy causes,” she said.

(Courtesy of Combined Federal Campaign)
(Courtesy of Combined Federal Campaign)

Lois McLean, who works with the Department of Agriculture in Washington, said she continued donating to the CFC despite the three-year pay freeze. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “If I’m struggling on my salary, I can’t imagine how those who make less than me are surviving.”

Edward Woolridge, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee from Fort Lauderdale, said he reduced the amount of his donation last year but still contributed to the campaign. He added that he plans to give money again this year.

“I feel an obligation to give to those charities that are involved directly in the fight against the medical conditions some of my family members suffer from — Aspergers and Parkinson’s Disease,” Woolridge said.

Simon Stuart, a Department of Commerce employee from Potomac, Md., said the CFC drive should provide more clarity about what happens with the money he contributes if he doesn’t designate a specific charity.

“I assume that it gets distributed to all the charities, which is a problem since there appear to be an increasing number of organizations listed that have a partisan agenda and/or which spend a disproportionate share of their revenue on administrative overhead,” he said.

Ronnie Levin, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, shared Stuart’s concerns about overhead. “For those of us who contribute to specific charities, it is more efficient to donate money directly than to go through CFC,” she said.

Randi Salkowitz, an Internal Revenue Service employee from Voorhees, N.J., said she is “outraged at the amount of overhead that is skimmed by the groups from the actual donations,” adding that she donates money to her synagogue because “it all goes to the charity” that way.

Deborah Brain, who works for Housing and the Department of Urban Development in Baltimore, said she didn’t contribute to the CFC last year and doesn’t appreciate solicitations at the office.

“I give my donations individually/privately, and I resent the pressure to donate at work,” she said. “I hate the fact that our offices are judged on the percentage of employees who donate through the CFC, without ever considering that some of us donate large sums privately, avoiding the CFC.”

Linda Geiss, who works for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said donating to the drive on a biweekly basis is a “longstanding tradition” for her. But she complained that the program has been slow to embrace technology, saying it needs to move online with a Web site that allows her to search for charities by type, location, keywords and other criteria.

“I think it would be cheaper than all those books they have to hand out,” she said. “Actually, it would be great if we could conduct the whole process online.

Despite knocking the CFC’s technological shortcomings a bit, Geiss said certain aspects of donating to the program are convenient for her.

“The plus for me is that I can use it with my tax returns at the end of the year,” she said. “No more hunting for receipts and processed checks.”

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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