Spiking retirements and a shrinking federal workforce are setting back many Combined Federal Campaigns — and some are trying innovative ways to work around the problem.
“It seems every year, the employee base seems to be shrinking,” said Demetrius Stevenson, director of the CFC of Greater SoCal in Southern California. “It poses a particular challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to reach out to the federal employee base and encourage more participation.”
Stevenson and LeAnn Jenkins, executive director of the Oklahoma Federal Executive Board and a member of the Central Oklahoma CFC’s Local Federal Coordinating Committee, said downsizing has taken a toll. Central Oklahoma’s pledges dropped 7 percent in 2011 to $3.4 million, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said other Oklahoma CFCs’ pledges also dipped last year. The Fort Sill-Lawton CFC dropped 10 percent to $280,925; the Green Country CFC near Tulsa dropped almost 8 percent to $673,421; and the McAlester Area CFC dived 18 percent to $52,850.
The Greater Los Angeles CFC — which was folded into the Greater SoCal CFC earlier this year — collected about $3.4 million in pledges in 2011, which Stevenson said was about $60,000 less than in 2010.
Stevenson said his campaign’s donor base has shrunk by between 1,200 and 1,500 people a year for the past five years or so. And Oklahoma’s population of federal employees dropped by nearly 2 percent since June 2011 to 39,346. Retirements governmentwide increased by 24 percent in 2011, and are up another 8 percent so far this year.
It’s not just the shrinking workforces that have CFC leaders worried. It’s the retirement of thousands of older employees who make up the core of CFC donors, and who — because they tend to have higher salaries — give the most money. Losing those workers doesn’t just cost campaigns their donated dollars — they also lose the time that those older employees devote to the campaign.
“What we find is the people who are retiring are leadership givers,” Jenkins said. “They’re the ones that grew up in a culture that believed it was the right thing to be benevolent and give.”
Jenkins said she doesn’t see that same enthusiasm for giving at the office among younger workers.
“CFC is viewed as something of a workplace tradition, but I find now that as people enter the workplace, the culture has changed a little,” Jenkins said. “They don’t have that same urge or loyalty for the program.”
Jenkins said she doesn’t think there’s a “magic bullet” that will get donations from employees in the millennial generation, those born since the late 1970s, but she said that Oklahoma CFCs have been trying to engage them more in recent years. For example, GEICO last month held its 10th annual Race for Freedom in Oklahoma City, which benefits CFC. While the charitable fun run isn’t new, Jenkins hopes that promoting the social event — which allows participants to run with their children or even their dogs — will bring out more young employees and encourage them to donate.
“Younger people seem to like the social-type connections,” Jenkins said.
Stevenson said the SoCal CFC is encouraging its campaigns to recruit more volunteers to talk to employees personally and encourage them to donate. He said that is often the most effective way to grow new donors.
“It is that one-on-one, face-to-face meeting with someone you respect that results in that particular contribution,” Stevenson said.
And Stevenson said the best way to reach young, potential donors is online. His CFC is trying to make it easier for them to look up information on charities — everything from the charities’ missions to statistics on their costs to their five-digit code numbers — and pledge money online.
For example, last year, Stevenson’s CFC launched a new feature allowing donors to make one-time pledges using their credit cards online, and they are heavily promoting that option this year.
But Jenkins said she and other CFC officials are still trying to figure out the best way to grow the next generation of CFC donors.
“I know it has everything to do with how to appeal to them in a way that motivates them … without appearing like it’s a stale tradition,” Jenkins said. “But I don’t know that we’ve figured that out here.”