The Combined Federal Campaign is the workplace giving program of the U.S. federal government and is the world’s largest annual workplace charity drive. It raised tens of millions of dollars last year for hundreds of nonprofits and more than $8 billion for charitable causes over the past half century.

The program, which dates to the Kennedy administration, is authorized by executive order 12353 of March 23, 1982, and is overseen by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Nearly 200 campaigns are staged to encourage donations throughout the country and overseas, raising millions of dollars each year in pledges from federal civilian, postal and military donors.

It’s the only way for nonprofits to reach donors in the federal community.

Throughout its history, the CFC has received voluntary contributions more than half of the federal civilian workforce of about 2.1 million workers each year, on average.

The numbers are in for last year’s campaign season, which raised more than $80 million for local, national and international charities that provide health and human service benefits worldwide, similar to total dollars raised in recent years.

Federal employees also pledged more than 80,000 hours of volunteer service at CFC-listed charities during the 2021 campaign. The non-profits value those hours as worth more than $1.9 million to their organizations.

This year, federal employees and retirees also gave an additional $670,000 in response to the war in Ukraine during a special solicitation.

“The health and human needs around us are great and growing. The CFC is an ideal way to help in hard times,” said OPM’s Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement.

Since 2012, annual donations have been decreasing steadily, from nearly $260 million to hovering around $80 million since 2019. The decline has been attributed to government shutdowns and administrative changes implemented in 2017.

Those changes were expected to reinvigorate the program upon taking effect, and early 2018 campaign data showed the campaign was tracking at an increase of 10% from the year prior until the government entered the longest shutdown in its history.

How does the Combined Federal Campaign work?

The current campaign season is in full swing, with solicitations first opening on Sept. 1 and ending on Jan. 14, 2023.

Outside of that period, new employees or retirees may make pledges within 30 days of entry on duty. All contributions are voluntary and donors may keep their contributions confidential.

Campaign regulations do not apply to food, clothing or toy drives, or to the solicitation of federal employees outside of the workplace.

Each campaign is managed by a volunteer group of federal employees who work with nonprofit executives in their communities to generate contributions and distribute them.

The campaign itself is overseen by OPM.

Employees conduct solicitations during duty hours and can include campaign kick-offs, victory events, awards, and other non-solicitation events to build support for the CFC.

The campaign is funded by application fees paid by the charitable organizations that apply for participation in the CFC.

CFC donations are unrestricted funds received throughout the year, giving nonprofits the flexibility to respond effectively to community needs.

Federal employees can also make donations via payroll deductions that steadily amount to a full gift over the course of a year.

‘Uncontrolled free-for-all’ until Kennedy

Fundraising in the federal workplace first became documented in the late-1940s, but it wasn’t until 1961 that official permission was given to permit fundraising in government offices.

In signing Executive Order 10927, then-President John F. Kennedy authorized the U.S. Civil Service Commission to develop guidelines and regulate fundraising in the civil service.

Before Kennedy codified federal giving, on-the-job fundraising in the federal workplace was an “uncontrolled free-for-all.”

Agencies, charities, and employees had little rules to follow, and participants were dissatisfied by problems with agency and individual quotas, pressure from supervisors and forbidden designations.

Though the campaigns today generate donations in the millions, at the time and prior to the 50s, total receipts for charitable causes were minor. Many employees just donated their pocket change.

In 1948, a body of agency personnel directors called the Federal Personnel Council attempted to add uniformity and stability to the fundraising effort through the issuance of guidance. Without any enforcement authority, agencies continued generally to follow their own system for on-the-job solicitations.

Then, in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower tasked the President’s Advisor on Personnel Management with developing a uniform policy and program for fundraising within the federal service.

In that year, Fund Raising Bulletins No. 1 and No. 2 were issued, which named charitable organizations recognized for on-the-job solicitations. The memos also designated the times of the year during which solicitations could take place.

General guidelines were issued for the conduct of campaigns and an Eligibility Standards Committee was created and eligibility standards were set for charities.

What charities participate in Combined Federal Campaign?

The first participating charitable organizations were The American Red Cross, Local Community Chests, the National Health Agencies (a group of nine health-related voluntary organizations, now known as Community Health Charities), and International Voluntary Agencies (two voluntary agencies primarily interested in overseas assistance programs).

Still, campaigns were dependent upon cash donations, often handled through an envelope distribution system. At the time, all contributions were paid directly by the employee to the voluntary agency, and there was no payroll deduction.

It wasn’t until 1971 that all campaigns were “combined.” President Richard Nixon announced on March 3, 1971, that the CFC would be the uniform fundraising method for the federal service.

Another major change at the time was the introduction of payroll deduction as a form of charitable contribution. This was made possible only by a truly combined, once-a-year campaign, and greatly increased the size of contributions.

Contributions grew dramatically to $82.8 million in 1979 from $12.9 million in 1964.

A series of other regulatory changes and tweaks took place throughout the 1980s and 1990s, shaping a program that today includes more than 20,000 nonprofit charitable organizations.

In 2001 alone following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, contributions rose by 8% over 2000 for a total of $241 million, the largest increase in 12 years.

Is participation mandatory?

The program is voluntary for federal employees to donate money or volunteer their time.

Federal employees and retirees can pledge monetary support online, with a paper pledge form, or through the mobile app. Employees can also donate through payroll deductions.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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