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CFC overhaul coming next year, document indicates

Feb. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Two volunteers from the United Way Northern New Jersey Women's Leadership Council, shown helping New Jersey homeowners after Hurricane Sandy. The United Way has long been a partner in the Combined Federal Campaign.
Two volunteers from the United Way Northern New Jersey Women's Leadership Council, shown helping New Jersey homeowners after Hurricane Sandy. The United Way has long been a partner in the Combined Federal Campaign. (Rosanna Arias)

The Office of Personnel Management is set to proceed with major changes to the Combined Federal Campaign starting next year, according to a draft of final regulations obtained by Federal Times. Among the changes in store for the troubled workplace charity drive, the draft indicates:

■ For the first time, charities will have to pay an application fee to participate in the CFC.

■ Paper pledges will be phased out over five years in favor of electronic giving.

■ The “principal combined fund organizations” (PCFOs) — often local United Ways — that handle fundraising and administration for individual CFCs will be abolished in favor of “one or more central campaign administrators’ created by OPM. Individual campaigns could still hire marketing firms to help with outreach to federal employees and military personnel.

■ At OPM’s discretion, the 3-1/2-month campaign may begin later than its traditional Sept. 1 start date, but must finish by Jan. 15.

■ New federal employees will be allowed to make pledges a month after joining the government. Currently, new hires must wait until the next campaign season to contribute.

■ In place of mounting special campaigns, OPM will create a permanent program to let federal employees respond quickly to relief efforts for individual disasters.

Many, but not all, of the planned changes follow recommendations made in 2012 by the CFC-50 Commission, an OPM advisory panel assembled to examine the campaign's operations a half century after its creation. They will take effect for the 2015 season, the draft says.

“These final regulations present a balanced approach to the current and anticipated future needs of the CFC,” Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta wrote in a preface outlining how the final draft differs from the original version rolled out last April.

Although the 28-page document is already circulating among members of the CFC community, OPM has not made it public; Federal Times obtained a copy independently. Asked when OPM intends to proceed with publication in the Federal Register, agency spokeswoman Lindsey O’Keefe said via email Tuesday that officials are still finalizing the regulations and will issue the final version “once the process is complete.”

The wrap-up comes as CFC leaders are bracing for a steep decline in pledges for the recently ended 2013 season, which was hobbled by October’s 16-day partial government shutdown. While the full numbers probably won’t be released for several more months, some local campaigns have already acknowledged falling well short of their goals. At EarthShare, a non-profit organization that runs the Washington, D.C.-area campaign, President and CEO Kalman Stein predicted that the total could fall to about $200 million, down some 20 percent from the preceding year.

In an interview, Stein questioned whether the planned changes will lead to a rebound. Instead of seeking to better engage federal employees in the campaign, he said, OPM appears more focused on improving it from a regulatory standpoint.

“I don’t think that these regulations are going to help us raise money,” Stein said.

But in the preface, Archuleta said they will assure donors that the CFC is reducing overhead, that charities are fiscally accountable, and that a larger portion of pledge amounts are passed on to designated charities.

The version released last April drew almost 1,400 comments, many of them hostile to specific proposals. In response, the final draft drops a provision that critics charged would have eliminated the local federal employee committees that oversee the 163 individual campaigns in favor of a regional approach. While OPM managers said they merely wanted to weed out ineffective campaigns, almost all of 643 comments received on the provision registered opposition, Archuleta said.

OPM is also bending on another heavily criticized provision requiring all pledges be made electronically in the interests of improving efficiency and reducing overhead. Detractors objected that eliminating paper pledges would dent giving; as a result, OPM will allow paper-based pledge forms to be used for another five years after the final regulations are implemented.

But the agency is sticking with its plan to to have participating charities pay an upfront application fee to cover the administrative costs of running the campaign. That expense is currently deducted from donors’ pledges. OPM will calculate the amount of the fee based on the previous campaign’s cost divided by the number of participating charities. An agency example suggests that the cost to each charity would be around $240.

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