Another Workplace Campaign Loses Steam: CFC Indicates Ever-Slower Returns


By Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, many made a big deal about the fact that last year, for the first time. the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund as a single entity took in more donor money nationally than the United Way did. With much fanfare, a new “charity champion” was declared. This struck us as not much of a revelation; the two types of fundraising (donor-advised funds and workplace solicitations) as “forms” crossed paths a while back—one ascending and one descending—and Fidelity’s just one among a expanding number of umbrellas for donor-advised funds.

At the time, we suggested the United Way was not the only workplace-solicitation entity experiencing a decline; technology and societal trends make direct giving easier and render more intensive intermediation a potential waste effort and donor dollars. So, as the year went on, we’ve been watching to see what’s occurring elsewhere—for instance, in the workplace giving campaign for federal government employees, operated through the Office of Personnel Management. The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) was supposed to have wrapped up its 2016 campaign last week.

As one indicator, which may presage the whole national campaign, we note that the Combined Federal Campaign for the National Capital Area set a reduced goal of $47 million this year after it raked in $46.5 million last year against a goal of $50 million. The workplace solicitation campaign for federal workers is international (including the military), but the National Capital Area is its highest giving area. Its campaign was set to run from September 15th through December 15th, but on December 5th, the Federal Times reported that the giving deadline was to be extended through the end of the year. And then on Monday, December 20th, Mike Causey of Federal News Radio reported that pledges as of a day or two before amounted only to $34 million. So, unless that campaign can raise $1 million a day through the end of the year, the campaign will fall short of its more modest 2016 goal.

For some, this will come as a surprise and a decided disappointment. Earlier reports said donations were running about 17 percent ahead of last year, and even before the campaign started, officials heralded their new, more youthful approach to the effort, complete with social media days and the tagline, “Show some love.” It may be that the downward slide is set for now and will be hard or even impossible to change. Additionally, in October President Obama announced by press release that volunteer hours could be counted for their dollar value:

The second improvement allows for Federal employees to volunteer with charitable organizations, and for those hours to count towards CFC goals. For example, many campaigns and Federal agencies set fundraising goals. Instead of being allowed to only contribute money, volunteer hours will be “monetized” and will count toward the total amount raised. In order to monetize volunteer hours, an estimated value will be given to one hour of volunteer time, which will be used to calculate the total value of volunteer time given by a donor.

But, as we said, this just seems to be marching down a mega-trend path already set. As Federal News Radio reported in September, “Between 2009 and 2012, Washington-area employees contributed about $60 million a year to the CFC. But in 2013, donations dropped to $51.2 million and $49.5 million in 2014.”

And of course, the problem is not confined to the Washington area. On a national basis, the amount raised by the CFC campaign has plummeted by more than 30 percent in recent years, as this chart from the CFC website suggests:


There may be a surge of giving before the end of the year, ensuring all will be well for this year’s CFC campaign. In general, though, I think we may all want to accept that, although many have tried hard to reverse the course of this decades old campaign, the CFC may not be a growth enterprise–type right now.

  • Tom Hosmanek

    An interesting article on the “what” is happening; a great follow-up article would be on the “why” it’s happening. I’m curious as to the cause(s) of the drops – are there issues with CFC or its operations or choices that are responsible for the drop, do donors like funds like Fidelity’s because they are more efficiently run or allow more precise targeting of where donations go, and what is the total annual donation figure, that is, has overall giving dropped, and if so, who’s been affected the most? A good beginning in examining this topic.

  • joewaters

    Yeah, these types of workplace campaigns are not the future – although employee engagement with causes may be stronger than ever. The reason? Millennials. This recent report from Boston-based Cone highlights the influence Millennials are having in the workplace.

    Looking for a good example. Check out how Omni Hotels is engaging Millennials with “Goodnight to Hunger”

  • Laresistance

    My agency stopped advertising it in the workplace. We used to have a person on each staff be the CFC point person each year and that really helped remind us to get our donation slips in. That no longer happens. We need a re-commitment at the top to CFC and I’m sure those of us further down the line will support it. Needs to be more visible and easy to do.

  • Joseph Mettimano

    Thanks, Ruth, for this thoughtful article.

    I would like to share a few more facts about the CFCNCA and its total gift/pledge trajectory for this year.
    – CFCNCA is tracking 9+% over 2015 in total dollars
    – Participation is up 3% from 2015
    – On December 31, 2015, the CFCNCA was at $40M, we are tracking at $42M for end of year 2016.

    A critical point as it pertains to this article: Historically, the CFCNCA receives an additional $7-9M during January and February months following the end of the campaign in December. These are cash and check donations that are accumulated during the campaign and processed usually after January 1. That being the case, not only is the campaign projected to experience an INCREASE in 2016, but is on a trajectory to SURPASS the 2016 goal.

    The campaign remains a robust platform for Federal employees to support charitable organizations and many, many nonprofits are helped by the funds the campaign produces. The CFC remains one of the largest workplace giving campaigns in the world.

  • Bryan de Lottinville

    I’ve read a few articles like this suggesting that workplace giving is becoming less prevalent and successful. While we are admittedly biased, that is certainly not our experience at Benevity. Later this month, we will pass the $1 billion mark in distributions to close to 100,000 global charities, and close to $500 million of that will have occurred in this year alone. The participation rate in our corporate clients’ programs is up nearly 50% year over year, including volunteering. While the deterioration in the CFC and some of the conventional approaches to workplace giving are apparent, they are no longer the bellwether for the health of employee giving programs. User-centric technology that emphasizes empowered choice, transparency, convenience, year ’round engagement, etc. over the once-a-year arm twisting exercise that has prevailed for years is generating both greater social and business outcomes for companies that are embracing a different ethos for employee giving programs. While it is an admittedly subtle distinction for some, changing the focus of these programs from fundraising to engagement is also important. By easily connecting people to causes that matter to them in ways that move them along an engagement spectrum from passive transactional interactions to those that involve co-ownership and co-creation of prosocial outcomes, companies can create business impacts along with increased social outcomes. These hybrid goals and the cultural transformation that flows are ultimately what will drive greater investment by corporations in helping drive these programs – something that is occurring to more and more employers.