July 31, 2012; Source: Washington Post

U.S. federal government employees are given the option to donate to charities of their choosing through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). Run through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the CFC defines itself as “the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with more than 200 CFC campaigns throughout the country and internationally to help to raise millions of dollars each year” during its annual September 1st-December 15th giving campaign. However, Washington Post federal government columnist Joe Davidson reports that the CFC saw pledges fall to $272.7 million last year, down from $282.6 million in 2009. Looking to turn things around as CFC turned 50 last year, OPM Director John Berry introduced the CFC-50 Commission to try to shore up the federal giving program. On Friday, the CFC-50 Commission released its report, which you can download (PDF) here.

The report includes 24 recommendations. These vary from the tactical (i.e., “Change the campaign solicitation end date from December 15 to January 15”) to the strategic (i.e., “Improve overall oversight of the CFC program”). Davidson points to one recommendation in particular that will surely be of interest to nonprofits that benefit from donations via the CFC: “Increase the value proposition for donors by shifting the burden of CFC costs from donors to participating charities.” The report states that this could be done either through imposing a flat fee on charities that wish to participate in the program or through a fee based on the percentage of donations that would be going to a charitable organization. The rationale for this proposal, according to the report, is that “Commission members believe many potential donors are opposed to giving to the CFC because administrative expenses are deducted from the funds being sent to charities.”

Shifting the CFC’s administrative burden from donors to charities might provide the CFC with the semantic benefit of being able to state—truthfully—that all of a donor’s funds are going to their chosen charity. However, enacting such a policy with the proposed charity fee structure would still result in a transfer of some funds from the charity to the CFC, which is ultimately at the heart of the concern described by the Commission. The obvious way around this would be to eliminate the CFC middleman—that is, for the federal government to shut down this charity drive program altogether and encourage federal employees to find their own giving path. But would doing so result in less charitable giving among federal employees and negative consequences for the charities involved? We’d love to hear thoughts on this issue from those who receive their paycheck from Uncle Sam, and particularly from those who do so and also donate to charity, both through and outside of the CFC program. –Mike Keefe-Feldman