Charities hit OPM’s federal workplace giving rules, but welcome invitation to discuss them

Joe Davidson
Columnist April 15

Leaders of charitable organizations don’t like major parts of the Obama administration’s effort to “revitalize” the annual federal workplace giving campaign, but Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta has succeeded in tamping down their outrage.

Almost 850,000 federal employees contributed more than $258 million in 2012 to 25,000 organizations through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), so those leaders get a little testy about changes they fear would do more harm than good.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Among the new rules: Cash donations will be eliminated, all charities will pay a nonrefundable application fee, and, in an effort to “streamline” operations, the distribution of funds to charities will move from more than 150 CFC financial centers “to one or a few Central Campaign Administrators (CCA).”

Charity leaders have a big problem with too much centralization.

“The way charitable giving works best in the workplace is when a fellow employee asks another employee to give to something that they care about and that they know about,” said Steve Taylor, senior vice president of United Way Worldwide. “With the centralization, with the lack of authority from the local employee committee, you lose that.”

Shortly before folks were out the door for the weekend Friday, Archuleta announced the new ways the CFC will do business.

“These new regulations will streamline campaign operations to make the program more effective and cost-efficient,” she said. “These changes will also ensure that the greatest amount of contributions go directly to the charities and causes selected by Federal donors.”

Charitable leaders doubt that. One called it “a classic okeydoke.” But they do welcome Archuleta’s willingness to talk about it. She discussed the rules and asked for help in implementing them in calls to charity executives last week.

That was a smart move.

“We view this as a positive sign,” said Stephen M. Delfin, president and chief executive of America’s Charities.

Yet he and other leaders would be better able to help — or hit — the new regulations if they knew the details. Although an OPM news release carried the headline “OPM Issues Final Rule to Revitalize the Combined Federal Campaign Regulations,” they remain unseen. The regulations won’t be public until they are published in the Federal Register, which OPM officials expect will be soon. OPM did provide some information in a fact sheet.

By e-mail, Delfin said the claim that more money will go directly to charities is okeydoke because “charities will then have to pay OPM directly to reimburse the federal government for the costs of running the campaign” instead of having those fees taken out at a different point in the process.

Rosie Allen-Herring, president and chief executive of the United Way of the National Capital Area, agreed. She said the fee structure could lead donors to think that more money is going to charities when that is not the case.

Eliminating cash contributions is another big concern. The OPM originally wanted to also eliminate check and money-order donations, but relented a bit when 97 percent of the comments to the draft proposal objected.

Yet the fact that the OPM still plans to do away with cash contributions and rejected other suggestions favored by charities leads to charges that the agency didn’t adequately consider the views of experts in the field.

“There was a hefty analysis done of the comments,” CFC Director Keith Willingham said by phone. “Where we felt there needed to be changes, we did make those changes. . . . We definitely considered the comments,” including those in favor of the OPM’s plans.

Archuleta acknowledged the criticisms in a blog post: “We understand that some groups have expressed apprehension over these changes. We take these concerns seriously and remain fully committed to working closely with charities and key stakeholders as we implement the final rule.”

She will find willing partners among the charity leaders who are concerned about the CFC, which has been looking a little thin lately. Contributions in 2012 were down 5.3 percent from 2011. The Payroll Philanthropy blog projects that donations for 2013, when reported by the OPM, will be down 18.8 percent from 2012.

Worried about a downhill spiral, Thomas G. Bognanno, president and chief executive of Community Health Charities, was critical of the new regulations for failing to provide any “steps to re-engage participation by federal employees.” CFC charity executives say poor employee morale has led to lower employee donations.

“Unlike the sharp growth being seen in workplace giving . . . in the private sector,” he added, “overall participation rates for the CFC have declined at an alarming rate.”

The charity leaders fear that the new OPM rules won’t help.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/
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