Charities bristle at OPM's proposed changes to CFC program

Wednesday - 7/10/2013, 7:57pm EDT

The Office of Personnel Management's proposed changes to the Combined Federal Campaign, the annual federal fundraising drive, are getting a frosty reception from local charities.

OPM wants to do away with the local volunteer coordinating committees and put in place a set of more centralized regional committees established by OPM. It also wants to require charities to pay an application fee and eliminate cash and check donations in favor of electronic donations.

Mark Lambert, OPM's associate director for Merit System Accountability and Compliance, told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Wednesday the changes are necessary to revamp the 50-year-old program, which has seen declining donations and participation rates over the last few years.

Total donations dropped from about $272 million in 2010 to $258 million in 2012, and more than 37 percent of donors in the past decade "have walked away from the program," Lambert told the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census.

Last summer, the CFC-50 Commission issued several recommendations for revamping the program.

OPM's proposed changes, which Lambert said were based on those recommendations, "will usher in the needed reforms to attract new donors and provide new contributions to the participating charities," he added.

Charities say donations will suffer

However, some charities say the proposed changes go far beyond what the commission recommended and would likely lead to fewer charities joining the program — and fewer total donations.

Debby Hampton, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Oklahoma, said the proposed reorganization of the coordinating committees would diminish the local flavor that now powers the program.

"It makes no sense to replace a local-based CFC with an ineffective, generic campaign run by an outsourced fundraising-marketing person, who really doesn't know what is important to our local donors," Hampton said.

Kal Stein, president and CEO of EarthShare which represents thousands of local charities, agreed.

"This would dramatically diminish the role of local federal volunteers to the detriment of the campaign, and OPM would need to create the capacity to manage all fundraising, Web development, processing and operations internally — and it has no experience in these areas," he said. "Such a radical reorganization of the campaign was not considered or discussed by the CFC commission."

OPM wants online-only donations

Charity representatives also bristled at OPM's proposal to assess an undisclosed fee for charities to participate in the program to cover administrative expenses as well as a proposal to eliminate paper-based donations in favor of electronic giving.

Hampton said a large corporation in Oklahoma participating in a charity drive switched to an online-only format and lost more than 60 percent of its total campaign giving.

But Lambert said only about $20 million of the $250 million raised by the CFC in 2012 came from cash or paper checks and that going digital would actually help OPM save significant amounts of money on printing costs.

Moving to an electronic system could also help the CFC attract new younger employees, who are used to online donating, he added.

OPM released its draft regulations in April. Final comments were due by June 7, and Lambert said the agency is still reviewing those comments.

"So, a lot we don't know yet," he said. "The regulations themselves are meant to be a general framework; the details, the processes and procedures will come after that."

But Ken Berger, the president and CEO of the Charity Navigator website and a member of the CFC-50 commission, said the lack of detail about how proposed changes would affect the program is troubling.

"There are number of things where we don't have the data, we don't know the answer," he told lawmakers. "And that's critical to get those answers and to make informed decisions as we move forward with any of these changes.

RELATED STORIES:

Special commission gives the CFC a roadmap to the future

Task force recommends crackdown on CFC management