“We are so amazed!” shouts a Facebook post from the organization that funnels federal employee donations to Washington-area charities. “More than $30 million has been contributed through the 2017 CFCNCA [Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area]!” as of last week.
That sounds good, but what would really be amazing is the campaign, which started in October, raising another $17 million by the drive’s end Friday. It would take about that much to match last year’s $47 million haul, which is this year’s goal.
“#ShowSomeLoveCFC” is this year’s slogan, but feds haven’t been amorous.
“It’s scary to know they are $16 million to $17 million away from the goal,” said Jeff Brown, public sector manager of the United Way of the National Capital Area, the largest federation in the local CFC.
The national drive also has reason to be frightened.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would not provide information about the amount raised to date nationally, but the trend from recent years is bad.
After securing donations worth $282.6 million in 2009, the most ever, national pledges fell steadily to $167 million in 2016 — a 40 percent drop. A 2012 OPM report documented a decades-long slide in the federal employee participate rate. More than 80 percent donated in 1965. By 2011, less than a quarter did.
Recent changes to CFC, designed to enhance contributions, apparently haven’t stopped the hemorrhaging. But there’s “still time to donate,” Brown said, “and to help fund the critical missions of the charities involved.”
Here’s what leaders of a few local charities had to say about this year’s campaign.
- Monise Quidley, Carpenter’s Shelter, Alexandria: “If there is a drop in campaign designations, funds that we rely on each year, it will be extremely difficult for Carpenter’s Shelter to make up that revenue gap in order to continue to provide our full array of services to the homeless community. … The amount Carpenter’s Shelter receives in CFC designations provides approximately 380 nights of shelter for families of four. Most families are in shelter for about three months, so our annual CFC revenue provides shelter for four families throughout the year.”
- Hilary Salmon, Capital Area Food Bank, Washington: “In the past two years, we’ve seen CFC donations decline an average of 21 percent. On an annual basis, that reduction is the equivalent of about 385,000 meals. … Every dollar donated can provide 2.5 meals men, women, and children in our community. A decline in donations does have an impact on how many additional neighbors we’re able to provide food to.”
- Kate Wiley, SOME (So Others Might Eat), Washington: “We always budget very conservatively so as to not commit ourselves beyond expected income. Our fundraising team is also strategizing on how to make up any difference.”
- Julie Lowe, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington: “If the campaign donations were to drop 10-20 percent we would be impacted by as many as 42-84 nights of service between our Ronald McDonald Houses in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. … The impact on the families and the children served by all of the programs would be felt tremendously.”
- Stephanie Hubbard, Manna Food Center, Gaithersburg: “On top of the decrease in federal employee giving, the new federal tax plan removes important incentives for individual giving, so we’re facing a double whammy. Combined decreases in federal employee and other individual giving may severely weaken our ability to provide food to thousands of individuals and families experiencing hunger.
- Lili Leonard, Whitman-Walker Health: “If we were to apply all CFC donor funds to a single program, campaign donors would fully fund our Youth Services initiative, which serves nearly 4,000 youth annually. … If we were to apply all CFC funds to our HIV/STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing program, campaign donors would underwrite the costs of nearly 5,000 HIV/STI tests … The urgency and importance of CFC donations is even greater now that we live in a moment in time where our fundamental rights are being threatened by the politics of division, fear, and distraction.”
While CFC donations have been in decline for years, Trump administration threats of federal layoffs and pay freezes certainly did not help this time. It officially began Oct. 2, but a new website did not launch until later that month. The online portal was delayed by OPM to allow charities in areas damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria more time to get organized.
Among the changes this year is a prohibition on cash donations. Cash didn’t represent a large portion of contributions, but bake sales and other programs that collected money also served to promote payroll and electronic donations. Without the lure of cash, there is little reason for local organizers to set up tables with chocolate chip cookies, resulting in fewer promotional events.
Other changes, outlined in an August memo from OPM’s acting director, Kathleen M. McGettigan, allow feds to pledge time to charities in addition to money. CFC can also now solicit from federal, including military, retirees, who may contribute through their annuities.
Will these innovations be enough to push CFC giving to its goal?
Vincent Micone, chairman of the Local Federal Coordinating Committee that oversees the D.C. area effort, isn’t sure, but he said “the contribution of federal employees to charities remains impressive.”
Yes, but less and less impressive every year.