CFC hoping for bounce-back year after tough 2018

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The national capital region is looking back on last year’s Combined Federal Campaign, which fell at least $4 million short of fundraising expectations, and is choosing to remain optimistic about the year to come.

After all, 2018 was a tough year for the campaign. Federal employees in the national capital region raised $34.2 million and contributed more than 56,000 hours of volunteer time to the CFC last year. It’s a stark contrast to years when the federal workforce in the region raised close to $60 million in one season.

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The 35-day government shutdown fell right in the middle of the 2018 CFC. And even though the Office of Personnel Management extended the campaign after the end of the longest shutdown in U.S. history, the damage was done. A series of new changes to the campaign, including a revamped online donation portal, the elimination of cash donations and the addition of retirees, complicated matters, and the CFC fell short of its $38 million fundraising goal.

But the national capital region, which officially launched its 2019 campaign on Wednesday, sees the previous year’s challenges as an opportunity — especially as many federal employees experienced the power of charity and giving themselves during the recent shutdown.

Vince Micone, the region’s 2019 CFC chairman, has seen his fair share of government shutdowns during his decades of experience with the campaign.

“Every time we’ve had one of those it’s impacted the CFC,” he said Wednesday in an interview with Federal News Network. “But actually we’ve bounced back and actually we’ve grown more after those experiences, because when something like that happens, people are reminded in a very personal way about how charitable organizations help people in times where they really have a need, even if that’s only temporary. They step into the void and help others. We had one of those experiences where people were reminded about the importance of charity and how it makes a difference and how those organizations make a difference.”

This year, the national capital region set the goal of again raising $34 million.

Donations to the campaign have been falling steadily for the past six years. Between 2009 and 2012, Washington-area employees contributed about $60 million a year to the CFC.

Source: Combined Federal Campaign

Still, Micone is confident the national capital region can reach and even surpass this year’s goal.

“As far as I’m concerned that’s only a number,” Micone said. “I actually think we’ll do quite better. I’m hoping to raise around $35 or $36 million in the campaign this fall.”

Two agencies, the Agriculture Department and the General Services Administration, have launched their campaigns already this season. Micone, who spoke at both events, said enthusiasm in the room was high and spirits were up.

The campaign is evolving and adapting to better respond and compete with the wide variety of ways federal employees have to donate to the causes that are important to them.

“We understand that, so for the last couple of years we have looked at how we can make sure have a safe portal where people can give online … along with making sure that the organizations in the campaign are vetted every single year by federal employees, so that everyone can know they’re legitimate,” Micone said. “We’ve put an infrastructure in place now that we can focus our ability to communicate to the federal workforce about why this is so important.”

Because the CFC only accepts online donations now, the campaign is more heavily focused on reaching federal employees on social media or through email messages — and less through the chili cookoffs, bake sales and other events agencies have held to drum up enthusiasm in the past.

“We are looking at ways that we can reach people where they’re receptive to learning about the Combined Federal Campaign,” Micone said. “From a marketing perspective, we’re looking at harnessing social media so that we reach people who we may not have reached through that traditional way of understanding and learning about the Combined Federal campaign. We’re really focused very heavily on social media as a tool for outreach.”

Through an online portal, federal employees can donate to nearly 8,000 charities through payroll deduction, credit or debit cards or through their bank account.

Retirees can continue to contribute to the CFC, and Micone said the campaign is working with retirement associations and OPM to inform the annuitant population.

“I’m actually very optimistic that not only are we going to have a good campaign but we’re going to have a strong couple of years, because we’ve worked a lot of the kinks out,” he said. “All of our systems are operating and we’re looking at really innovative ways to reach people.”

CFC leaders are also optimistic because federal employees in the Washington area have a strong history of giving. The national capital region raised just  more than a third of what the CFC raised nationally, said Josephine Olsen, Peace Corps director and national honorary chairwoman for the 2019 CFC.

The Smithsonian Museum of Art and Industries hosted the CFC’s kickoff event this year in Washington. Nancy Bechtol, the Smithsonian’s director of facilities, said the institution was proud to host Wednesday’s event.

“All of this volunteerism is from the Smithsonian so that we can give back to the CFC, so more of our hard-earned dollars and more of our donations can go to the charities, which is why we’re all here and what we’re supporting,” she said. “It is Smithsonian’s way of giving back what we can, just as everyone in this audience is giving back what you can through your donations and through your hard work throughout all of the agencies.”

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