The Office of Personnel Management plans to charge charities a first-ever application fee starting in 2015 to join the Combined Federal Campaign, according to fine print contained in its recently released budget request for next year.
The proposed change would be part of a much broader overhaul intended to revive the flagging charity drive, where pledges from federal employees and military personnel have now fallen for three straight years.
Charities would have to pay the nonrefundable fee every year they participate in the campaign, according to a draft of the proposed overhaul published last month in the Federal Register. The revenue raised would pay for administration, pledge cards and other overhead expenses now covered by deductions from donors’ pledges. The change was recommended last year by the CFC-50 Commission, an official advisory body charged by then-OPM Director John Berry with reviewing the campaign’s operations 50 years after its founding. Paying the campaign’s costs through an application fee would “assure donors that 100 percent of their donations reach the benefiting organizations,” the commmission said in its final report.
The 2012 campaign’s budgeted cost was $28.2 million, not counting the considerable staff time that thousands of federal employees serve in support of the charity drive, suggesting that the amount of revenue at stake could be substantial. But OPM officials have so far not said how much they will charge; according to the draft published last month, the CFC director will determine the fee structure each year based on the “estimated costs of administering the campaign.” Until release of the 2014 budget request, OPM had also not said when it intended to begin charging the fee. Currently, national charities have to apply by mid-January to participate in the next campaign, with local charities facing an April deadline. By that timetable, the application fee would take effect for organizations signing up for the fall 2015 campaign, said Patrick Maguire, business manager for 20 federations of CFC charities
OPM is also proposing to:
■ Abolish the current network of about 184 state and local campaigns in favor of a smaller number of regional coordinating committees.
■ Push back the CFC’s annual start date from September to October.
■ Allow pledges to be made only electronically.
The public comment period on the draft overhaul runs through June 7. OPM officials refused Federal Times’ request to view some 50 comments submitted thus far, saying the newspaper first had to make a Freedom of Information Act request.
OPM’s plan to charge an application has gotten a wary reception from many charities that question whether the extra expense will make participation worthwhile. Although CFC is “a great source of revenue and exposure,” the “scale of the funding that we get is not huge, so it’s going to be hard to pay something to participate,” said Suzanne Pelletier, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation, a New York-based conservation organzation.
Steve Delfin, CEO of America’s Charities, a federation of more than 100 national and local charities, said the combined effect of the proposed changes could be “a dramatic drop in giving and a dramatic drop in participation.”
From a peak of almost $283 million in 2009, pledges have fallen every year since, totalling about $257 million last year, according to OPM figures.
But Maguire, who served on the CFC-50 Commission, said that between 20,000 and 24,000 charities take part in CFC. If the application fee is uniform and across-the-board, he said, “it won’t have to be so large as to be a deterrent.”