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Home > Research Articles > Terrorist Attacks, War Effort Spur CFC Giving

By Matthew Sinclair, Non-Profit Times

Monday, April 08, 2002

By Matthew Sinclair Before September 11, fundraisers were hoping their fall campaigns would be able to help them stave off the repercussions of the faltering U.S. economy. In the wake of the tragedies that day, many organizations hoped they wouldn't be forgotten as the American public dug deep to donate in unprecedented amounts. One area of American philanthropic giving that may actually see surprising growth includes the people who are currently fighting the War on Terrorism. Though there are still several significant campaigns either incomplete or unreported, the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) appears to have shown strong growth in its fundraising efforts as well. The CFC is essentially the workplace giving campaigns in federal government offices as well as throughout the U.S. military both at home and abroad. If the numbers prove to show such growth it would be a good sign for a campaign that has seen steadily diminishing participation even as the number of people solicited remains hovering around 4 million. The CFC grew 2.8 percent to a record $223.9 million during 2000, and it showed a more than 5 percent growth rate as recently as 1999 in terms of revenues, according to information listed on the Office of Personnel Management CFC Operations Web site. Participation rates in the CFC, however, have been consistently falling, with less than 38 percent participating in the 2000 campaign. The number of participants has been falling since 1988 with the percent of participation in decline since 1986. A spokesperson for the OPM office did not return calls for comment by press time, which happened to coincide with OPM national meetings on the CFC and deadlines for receiving information from the campaigns. The CFC National Capital Area, which is the largest in the CFC and includes the Pentagon, raised more than $50 million this year, though final numbers were not yet available. Regardless, it exceeded its goal of $48 million. "Last year we raised about $46.5 million," said Beverly Lofton, associate director for communications for the CFC National Capital Area. Initial indicators suggest that the participation levels were roughly the same this year, she added. "We've not actually had an opportunity to analyze and see where the growth was." She said that in light of the September 11 attacks, heightened security challenged the effort. "There was nothing that couldn't be conceived as a weapon," she said. "Anything going in (to federal offices including the White House) had to go through additional security. … It just took a little more time." Mike Howland, who serves as chief executive for Christian Service Charities of America (CSCA), Human Service Charities of America (HSCA), and Medical Research Agencies of America (MRAA), all based in Springfield, Va., said the timing of the terrorist attacks caused havoc on how the groups were able to market their campaigns. "It came right when most of these individual campaigns were kicking off," he said. "Security got a lot more restrictive in terms of people coming and going and the kinds of materials that could be brought in to display. It was harder from a marketing standpoint." Being on the front page of the CFC book of agencies in most areas certainly helped the campaign. "For what we have, Christian Service Charities is up 40 percent," he said. Specifically, comparing the same 70 campaigns from year to year, CSCA raised $1.45 million this past year compared to $1.04 million the previous year. He added, "(From) what we see so far, and we have a limited return on campaigns, the three federations for which I'm CEO are all up from the year before." Historically, Howland said, there was no significant change in the CFC for his groups during Desert Storm. And while the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 created a noticeable response, it was not like September 11. "I don't think we've had anything that's had such a calamitous combination of things," Howland said "(as) the events of 9/11 and a declaration of war on top of a recession." Don Sodo, president and chief executive officer of America's Charities in Chantilly, Va., said that while its campaign numbers are not yet complete, he believes giving will show an increase through the CFC. "In the public employee campaign, (the economy has had) less effect than in others," he said. "Anecdotally, I've heard it's holding up pretty well, (with the) workforce being a bit more stable and less affected by the downturn in the economy." While giving through America's Charities had barely cleared $20 million in the fall of 2000, according to Sodo, that was "essentially flat compared to the previous year." He added that the general trends for groups like his are hopeful. "More employers are offering charity choice in their campaigns." Sodo said that his understanding is that the military component of the CFC may have reached record highs in giving. "That's a real tribute to the military." Mike Hughes, president of United Way of Southampton Roads in Norfolk, Va., said the CFC in his area was instrumental in its annual campaign growing to $18.8 million. "It was all pushed by the CFC and our municipal campaigns," he said. "We (raised) $4.2 million last year, 2000. In the fall 2001 we went to $5.4 million." He said that the campaign "gave all our federal employees the opportunity to participate on some level in the recovery from September 11. … (That) produced a stellar result in the CFC." The CFC in San Antonio, Texas, is not normally adversely impacted by economic changes, according to Gary Wilson, vice president of resource development at the United Way there. "The federal workforce is pretty stable, they get their raises fairly regularly," he said. "If anything, the (terrorist) events of last year made federal employees more generous." The $5.4 million its CFC raised this past year was only about a 2 percent increase compared to the previous year, but the closing of Kelly Air Force Base meant the organization was anticipating a decrease of roughly $400,000, Wilson said. "So, (UWSA is) up about $700,000 over the year before if you consider the loss of Kelly Air Force Base." He also noted growth in CFC campaigns at military and federal units such as Wilford Hall Medical Center (up nearly $93,800 or 35.6 percent, average gift $204), Brooke Army Medical Center (up $52,551 or 39.2 percent, average gift $71) and the U.S. Postal Service (up almost $45,500 or 8.6 percent, with an average gift of $288). Jay Gardella, director of the San Diego County Combined Federal Campaign, said the economy has made things difficult for many soldiers, with "young sailors and marines on food stamps." But, the CFC in San Diego County saw an 8.4 percent increase compared to the previous year. That additional $500,000 brought its campaign to $6,526,000. "Unfortunately because of 9/11, we see a major upswing in donations," Gardella said. Whereas the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was in the back burner of many federal workers outside the Oklahoma area when the fall 1995 campaign hit the workplace, said Gardella, "our campaign was literally in the process of being delivered" when the attacks on the United States occurred. "This was on the forefront of people's minds." Participation barely budged in the San Diego campaign, yet the average gift increased 2 percent to $117. With its leadership program marking the $600 mark as a leadership gift, the CFC saw such donations hit 2,817 this year, up from 2,424, Gardella said. "These leaderships givers gave $2,274,000 alone, which represents 35 percent of the total numbers raised," he added. Their average gift was more than $800. "I think it's important to emphasize that because of September 11 a lot of federal employees gave a lot more thought to participating and those that gave in the past realized there was a big need," Gardella said. "Just because we have a national disaster doesn't mean that the needs for charities at the grassroots levels go away. They're still there and need to be supported."