WHO LOOKS DOWN / marc falardeau

November 16, 2016; Tallahassee Democrat

A few weeks ago, the Chronicle of Philanthropy announced with much fanfare that Fidelity Charitable Funds had outpaced United Way in dollars raised last year. The comparison is silly on some levels, but the fact is that United Way’s fundraised dollars have been declining while the public’s use of more individual ways of giving has been on the upswing. The same holds true for the Combined Federal Campaign, which has been trying to retool to little effect over the past few years.

Now, we see that the Florida State Employees’ Charitable Campaign, which ended two days after the election on November 10th, has raised only $282,092 in pledges, the lowest in its 38-year history according to the Department of Management Services. In its best year, it raised almost $5 million for charity from state employees.

While we know that workplace giving seems to be on the decline, this is an extraordinary plummet. To make matters worse, Solix, the for-profit agency that is under contract with the state to run the campaign, is slated to take home $180,000, or nearly 64 percent of the total, leaving a big $102,000 for charities.

The state of Florida had traditionally contracted with the United Way to run the campaign, but that relationship ran into problems. Some workers complained of being “strong-armed” to participate (a complaint that has been made elsewhere about workplace solicitations) and donations were already falling off. Solix was hired in 2012. It was then that 1) donations took an even deeper dive, and 2) Solix began to increase its fees so that it was taking home most of the pledged gifts—hardly an incentive for the workers when they heard the facts last year. Hundreds rescinded their pledges. The state did rework the contract, apparently agreeing to a flat fee of $180,000, but enough faith was lost so that flat fee now constitutes most of the take and still discourages giving.

DMS is scrambling. Maggie Mickler, spokeswoman for the agency, said, “As we stand today, 63.8 percent of every dollar pledged in the 2016/17 campaign would go to cover the administrative costs of the fiscal agency. And that situation is just completely unacceptable.” And State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) said, “We’ve got to change the state statute in some manner so that we can recapture the ability of state employees to contribute using the state system. We’ve got to figure out a way to harness this good intent of our state employees and make sure we do it in a more practical manner and far less expensive way.”

But this conclusion bypasses what may be another, more sensible one: Perhaps the combination of the severe damage in Florida and the general decline of workplace giving suggests that the state not send good money after bad and possibly just end the program as bad ROI.—Ruth McCambridge