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Campaigns looking to attract, engage young feds

Sep. 29, 2012 - 03:33PM   |  

Many Combined Federal Campaigns are putting extra effort into striking new relationships with younger generations of federal employees to sustain their campaign efforts in the future.

A number of campaigns, including the National Capital Area CFC and Greater Chattanooga Area CFC, have formed young donor advisory councils to increase awareness and solicit participation from younger employees.

Campaigns are also exploring more convenient giving options for tech-savvy donors, and campaign leaders are striving to understand what compels younger donors to give.

“To sustain the future of the CFC, it is imperative to raise awareness about the benefits of contributing through the CFC,” CFC Director Keith Willingham said in an email. Willingham said the Office of Personnel Management “is interested in learning what will make the CFC more attractive to all federal employees.”

The CFC-50 Commission, created last year to recommend ways to strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of the CFC, recommended that OPM survey donors and host focus groups to determine what donors want out of CFC and why they do or do not participate.

“The information derived by this approach should help OPM reshape the program to be more agile and responsive to a new generation of federal employees and inspire them to get more involved,” Willingham said.

But for many young federal employees, CFC is only one of several avenues they have to give.

“Some of them wonder why [they should] give through CFC when they can give directly to the charities,” said Brandon Haller, Local Federal Coordinating Committee chairman for the National Capital Area CFC.

Young employees are also concerned that CFC adds another layer of overhead costs, decreasing the amount of funds going directly to charities.

“I think a lot of this young group doesn’t understand or isn’t aware that while we have an 8 percent overhead, we can reach a lot of donors,” Haller said. “The money that we raise through CFC really doesn’t cost the charities that [employees] give to any additional overhead.”

As the largest workplace charity campaign, CFC “opens up a huge amount of potential money for these charities,” he said.

Haller would like to see young donors participate more in Local Federal Coordinating Committees (LFCCs), which oversee local campaigns and decide things such as annual budgets. But current rules serve to discourage younger employees’ participation.

While anyone can attend LFCC meetings, only committee members — who must be GS-14s or -15s or in the Senior Executive Service, generally older workers — can vote.

Mark Bergel, founder of the charity A Wider Circle, said many charities have grown because of federal workers’ support.

Older workers who donate through CFC feel a connection to charities over time as trust is established, Bergel said.

When it comes to engaging federal donors, including younger ones, charities have to show them how $1 or $5 a pay period can benefit the charity. Bergel’s Maryland-based organization furnished more than 13,000 homes for children and adults and delivered nearly 600 educational programs in 2011.

People want to know what else they can do, apart from contributing money, he said. At A Wider Circle, nearly 10,000 people volunteered at the charity last year.

Donating time is especially appealing to young employees, whose modest salaries may not allow for financial donations.

For many young employees, volunteering through CFC is an extension of their lives before joining the federal workforce.

“I was pretty passionate about CFC from the get-go,” said Amber Roberts, 33, a young leader with the Greater Chattanooga Area CFC.

Roberts, a transmission specialist for the Tennessee Valley Authority, said she has participated in philanthropic events since high school, so CFC was a natural fit.

She leads a team of CFC volunteers focused on engaging younger feds. For example, the campaign’s upcoming fundraiser auction will include items that appeal to younger employees: gift cards to popular stores and a beach house getaway in Florida that was donated for the auction.

The Chicago Area CFC is hopeful that greater options for donating will increase participation among younger feds and help the campaign meet its $4 million goal this year.

This is the first year that donors can give using their credit cards, and the campaign is one of a few piloting a universal giving program, said Ricardo Wong, chairman of the Chicago Area LFCC. Employees can give to any charity participating in the CFC at a local, national or international level.

The campaign is also using Quick Response Codes, which employees can scan with their smartphones and use to access a mobile version of the campaign’s website, said Eriabee Chiles, director of the Chicago Area CFC. Then, with their smartphones, employees can search for charities and make a pledge.

A number of charities are also using social media to educate younger employees about the CFC with the aim of increasing their involvement.

“We want to get them involved to build a donor base and see what works best for them,” Haller said of National Capital Area employees.

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