National capital area kicking off revamped Combined Federal Campaign for 2017

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As Hurricanes Harvey and then Irma hit the U.S. in the past month, federal employees asked how they could help.

Based on responses from the workforce, Office of Personnel Management set up a special solicitation for federal employees to administer and collect donations to help hurricane survivors.

Some employees are leaving their day jobs to join FEMA and the Homeland Security Department in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and other U.S. territories to help with the federal rescue and response effort.

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That spirit of giving isn’t unusual; it’s what the federal employees do, said Vince Micone, chairman of the National Capital Area Combined Federal Campaign.

“When asked, we give,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “That’s why people work in public service. It’s not about the big pay checks. It’s not about the benefits. It’s about service; it’s about public service.”

The Combined Federal Campaign is confident that same spirit of volunteerism will drive federal employees to donate this year. The National Capital Area once again hopes to raise at least $47 million for the CFC in 2017, with a stretch goal of $50 million.

“We saw an increase last year in the gifts that we received from the year before,” Micone said. “We are looking to do the same thing this year. I am very optimistic that we are going to reach and exceed the goal. … I think we can reach a lot higher.”

The 2017 campaign runs from Oct. 2 through Jan. 12, 2018. It’s a slightly later start time for the CFC this year, mostly to give its organizers more time to fully implement some big changes to the campaign.

“For all the generosity of the past 55 years, we felt something was missing,” OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan said Monday during the CFC’s 2017 kickoff and training event in Washington. “People were still giving millions of dollars a year through the campaign, but fewer people were participating. At OPM we asked, what could we do to get on a better, stronger trajectory to really set CFC up for the next 55 years of success?”

Though the National Capital Area met its goal of raising $47 million for 2016, donations have dwindled in recent years, with sequestration and the 2013 government shutdown taking a big toll. 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.

The CFC’s organizers say a few key changes this year will help.

OPM is unveiling a new online charity application and donation system. All federal donors in every market across the country can make donations to the campaign through one portal.

Federal employees can visit the website to enroll in the payroll deduction option, make monthly or one-time donations and search for specific charities.

With one portal, OPM believes the campaign itself will become more efficient. The agency will no longer need to administer 40 to 50 different online donation sites.

“Because we’re not spending all of this money on portals across the country,” Micone said. “We’re actually saving donor dollars and putting more money in the hands of charities by taking that step.”

Over the next five years, the CFC is phasing out its paper system and will no longer accept cash donations. The online portal will be the only avenue where federal employees can officially make donations to the campaign.

Micone expects the events, like the bake sales and chili cook-offs that agencies typically hold to raise money and awareness for the campaign, will look a little different this year.

Gone are the days of the cash box, which agency CFC volunteers used to collect donations at their events.

But the creative gatherings shouldn’t stop. The CIA, for example, brought “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek to speak at a CFC event.

“We’re harnessing e-giving platforms and electronic means of giving to make it easier for us to account for the money and make sure it gets right to the charities,” Micone said. “So that’s a good thing. [It] doesn’t mean the events can’t happen. It just means that instead of the five bucks, we’re encouraging you to bring your cell phone and make your gift through that.”

In addition, retirees can also donate to the CFC for the first time ever.

The campaign is working with OPM to find specific advertising channels where it can reach the federal retiree base, Micone said.

“This is going to be a learning year,” he said. “We’ll go through the year and we will learn how to better reach retirees in our community that still live here. Part of what we’re going to be doing is trying a few things this year and figuring out how we can find tune it for the campaign next year.”

Finally, federal employees can also donate volunteer hours for the first time ever to the CFC. They can record those hours online at OPM’s new CFC portal.

The campaign will once again use the “Show Some Love” concept as its theme this year, which Micone said proved to be particularly successful in 2016. The CFC changed its marketing strategy last year, turning more often to social media to prompt federal employees to share their own stories about causes or charities that have changed their lives.