By Judith Mbuya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The message is popping up everywhere. Signs have appeared inside Metro trains; banners are plastered on city buildings. The warning has even invaded the airwaves.
The targets of the campaign are the thousands of federal workers who make annual charitable donations through their workplaces. Volunteers are trying to prevent confusion from a small but critical change in the way preferred charities are identified on donation forms. The changes affect the two workplace giving campaigns for government workers -- the Combined Federal Campaign and the Combined Federal Campaign Overseas for workers who are abroad.
This year, the Office of Personnel Management, the agency charged with overseeing the Combined Federal Campaign operations, has assigned new five-digit codes to all local, national and international charitable organizations. The CFC said it made the change from four-digit codes to accommodate growth in the number of charities.
"We've made a really concerted effort to train and educate campaign volunteers on the new five-digit code numbers," said Janet Cave, vice president of marketing and communications for Global Impact, the group that manages the CFC campaigns in the national capital area and overseas.
The five-digit codes are a step toward eliminating geographic barriers to giving. Under the old system, a food kitchen in the Washington area might have had the same code as an employment-assistance program in San Francisco. Employees were effectively blocked from donating to local charities outside their area. Under the new system, no code will be used for more than one organization. The Combined Federal Campaign is working toward setting up a system that will allow employees to donate to local organizations outside their geographic areas.
Cave said that it's too early to tell how the transition is going but that early reports from the pledge-processing center are positive.
"As of now, we have not received any reports of bad codes on pledges that have been received. People are using the five-digit codes," she said.
Page Crosland, spokeswoman for the charity United Way, echoed those sentiments. She said the change shouldn't have much impact on giving this year.
"So far, we haven't received any complaints from our nonprofit organizations," Crosland said.
Kalman Stein, president and chief executive of EarthShare, said the code change will not affect growth in donations this year. He expects a pickup in giving because people are increasingly concerned about issues related to the environment. EarthShare represents leading environmental conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and the National Audubon Society.
Stein said the Office of Personnel Management could have handled the transition more smoothly. Instead of assigning entirely new numbers to all charities, he thinks it would have been easier for everyone if a two-number prefix had been added to existing codes.
He said his organization wasted money because it had to dump many donor give-aways such as posters, golf tees and fanny packs that displayed the old numbers.
Combined Federal Campaign officials said pledges made using the old numbers will not be honored and will instead be marked as undesignated contributions. Donors can find the new codes through the Office of Personnel Management's Web site at http://www.opm.gov/cfc/07lists/Docs/2007CFCNationalCharityList-Revised.doc.
A federal rule change has expanded the number of charities participating in the Combined Federal Campaign. Since a recent court decision, non-public 501(c)(3)s qualify. Previously, private nonprofit groups were excluded.
The workplace donation program has been in operation since 1961 and has raised $5.75 billion. The Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area took in a record $60 million last year.
Employees can donate in lump sums or sign up for automatic deductions from their paychecks. Individuals can also choose to donate by credit card, electronic transfer or personal check. They can give to any nonprofit group of their choosing, specifying where each dollar should go. Undesignated donations end up in the general fund.
"We strongly encourage donors to designate their donations to organizations that they know something about," said Mark Lambert, acting head of the Combined Federal Campaign.
For charitable groups, the workplace is a proven, organized vehicle for raising funds. In 2006, more than 1.2 million federal, postal and military employees donated more than $271 million, Lambert said.
For donors, the Combined Federal Program provides thousands of organizations that have been certified with 501(c)(3) status and have gone through a rigorous vetting process.
Staff writer Terri Rupar contributed to this report.