Federal employees have thousands of verified charities to choose from when deciding whether to volunteer their time or funding for a cause they believe in, a number that leadership for the Combined Federal Campaign has cited as an inherent strength of the program. Feds will, in theory, be better able to find the cause that speaks to them.
But CFC donation totals have been on the decline in the past decade, a fact that CFC leaders have attributed to shutdown interruptions and the changing nature of giving, among other reasons.
Employees actively involved in the campaign and the CFC chair, however, say that the thing that inspires them to contribute often boils down to the personal causes that strike a chord in them.
“We are here to serve anyway, but this is a very special thing that can become very personal for us individually to really reach out to those parts of the community that we feel a particular affiliation to,” John Gill, deputy director of the Center for Leadership Development at the Office of Personnel Management, told Federal Times.
“If you keep your eyes open in your community, you will see things that either inspire you or trouble you where you have a particular interest. The important thing is to have something to be personal to you. In my particular case it is homelessness.”
Those personal motivations can stem both from problems that feds see in their communities and issues that impact them personally.
“We never know when we may be one of those people that may need support from others,” LaShonne Williams, OPM CFC campaign manager and acting deputy director in the office of communications, said to Federal Times.
“Personally, my causes are multiple sclerosis — I have a daughter who graduated from college and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the highlight of her adult life — and the other is survivors of homicide, because I have a 16-year-old son who was murdered. And those are the things, even before then, that cause me to have so much passion and care about these charities, who go through so much [in] the vetting process.”
Several federal agencies and CFC zones have hosted events that celebrate the results that federal giving have had and to encourage feds to make time to donate to or volunteer with the charities through CFC.
The charities, themselves, also have an opportunity to set up booths at such events, to share the difference that a CFC donation can make and to open feds’ eyes to the wide array of causes they have the option of supporting.
“As employees, and being with the government, we’re about service, and I think that it sets up a way that we think that makes it possible to offer service in a lot of other ways. And we as givers can see these stories and understand how a difference got made, how it’s, ‘Aha, that could have been me,’” Jody Olsen, the director of the Peace Corps and honorary chair of the 2019 CFC season, told Federal Times.
“You start with what’s important to you, in terms of that community around you, and then you build from there that it is the CFC contribution that gives you that opportunity to care about what is important to you.”
Olsen served as honorary CFC chair in 2018, as well, and she said that the second time around has really given her the opportunity to translate feds’ passion for charitable giving into her own passion for promoting the program.
“Important for me was meeting federal employees and understanding the tremendous time and effort that federal employees give to communities, to faith-based groups, to families,” said Olsen.
“There’s a personal passion that so many employees have about the world around them, whether it’s next door or a ways away. So, I feel even stronger to continue to publicize it, to continue to strengthen it externally, so more people can be aware of what we do.”
In fact, OPM Director Dale Cabaniss told federal employees at her agency’s kickoff event that CFC enables federal employees to show that they are not only dedicated to giving back as a civil servant, but also as members of their own communities.
For the third year, feds also can pledge volunteer hours for their preferred charities — an option that made up a small percentage of overall donations in its first two years, but that CFC leadership and contributors have said is important to encouraging service.
“People’s monies are sometimes tied up in other things, and to give your time, that is even more of a selfless act, because you have to take a pause in life, have to step back and have to give of yourself,” said Williams, who took time last year to prepare meals for the homeless.
“It really made me think about how I was actually helping other people to have food, something that we take for granted.”
Olsen — who not only leads the Peace Corps, but started as a volunteer herself — said that people also get just as much, if not more, from their volunteer service as the people they choose to help.
“We all know that we come back a different person, and I know that even if we volunteer for two hours, we meet people, we hear stories, we share stories, we’re not quite the same. And that gift that those we serve when we volunteer give to us is as important as the gift we give them,” said Olsen.
The 2019 CFC season runs from Sept. 9, 2019, to Jan. 12, 2020.