Issue #149, Spring 2007
Workplace Giving: Everyday Philanthropy
By Nichole Brown
In 2004, federal employees donated $256 million through the Combined
Federal Campaign (CFC)-the world's largest workplace fundraising
campaign. The CFC allows federal civil, postal and military workers
to donate money to participating nonprofits that provide health and
human-service benefits in their communities. Employees who wish to participate
choose among eligible charities, designating specific dollar amounts
that are then deducted from their paychecks.
Workplace giving offers a well-established fundraising opportunity
for community development corporations and other neighborhood and low-income
community advocacy groups. Such groups as the National
Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), Coalition to End Homelessness,
Human Investment Project and Venice Community Housing Project have reaped
the rewards of participation.
Besides the federal campaign, a number of states and municipalities have workplace giving campaigns of their own. New Jersey has a statewide campaign, as well as northern and southern state campaigns and 19 county campaigns. State programs also exist in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington. Many private-sector businesses, such as American Express, General Electric and AT&T, sponsor independent corporate campaigns, which operate much like the CFC.
Federal guidelines were established in 1958 to limit the frequency
with which charities could fundraise and to identify the kinds of groups
that could solicit donations. Unscheduled requests were eliminated,
and charities were restricted to an annual appeal. Eligibility standards
and a screening process were put in place to vet organizations interested
in participating. The new system was considered a major improvement,
but employees were still inundated with too many requests from the individual
In 1964, the Combined Federal Campaign was created to consolidate all
fundraising drives. With one uniform campaign, employee donations increased
and workers' attitude toward giving improved. According to the Office
of Personnel Management, the reforms were responsible for the rise in
federal employee giving from $12.9 million in 1964 to $82 million in
The level of charitable participation did not experience the same growth: There were 23 CFC charities in 1969, and 33 in 1979. But as the CFC system for giving became more streamlined and the definition of "human health and welfare charity" expanded to include public-advocacy and legal-defense groups, the number of CFC organizations ballooned to more than 20,000 worldwide-from neighborhood food pantries to emergency shelters to national and international relief organizations. Some charities-generally those with similar interests-joined "federated groups" to participate in collective fundraising efforts.
Making CFC Work
Nonprofits are required to adhere to certain fundraising and operations
standards. For example, they must not receive more than 80 percent of
their revenue from government sources nor can they be affiliated with
lobbyists. Local groups must have their offices open for at least 15
hours a week. They must also go through an extensive review of their
activities and financial practices and must reapply annually for inclusion
in the next year's funding campaign. Applications are accepted between
December and January for national organizations, and March and May for
local groups. Annual campaigns are held during a six-week period, anytime
between September 1 and December 15.
NLIHC, a D.C.-based policy advocacy group working to end the affordable-housing
crisis in the United States, receives on average just under $5,000 a
year from federal employees in the District of Columbia, according to
its president, Sheila Crowley. It's not a huge sum, but for a nonprofit
it's nothing to sneeze at-especially given the limited effort and expense
Once they are accepted into the campaign, nonprofits have to do very
little to participate. They are listed in the official CFC brochure,
which also includes a description of their services or programs. These
brochures are made available to all employees who wish to donate. Nonprofits
are encouraged to publicize their activities by distributing promotional
materials in public areas of federal workplaces and by participating
in annual campaign kick-off events.
When nonprofits join workplace giving campaigns, either in the public or the private sector, they can achieve two goals: The campaigns bring in much-needed donations and provide an opportunity to inform a broader public about the organizations' work. And while they may not have the big-money potential of some traditional institutional funding streams or the deep pockets of well-heeled philanthropists, workplace-giving campaigns are valuable sources of funding.