The Easiest Way to Raise Money: Register with CFC

Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) guru Bill Huddleston tells how nonprofits can raise money from federal employees in just eight great points:

1. Why should I bother to read this article about the Combined Federal Campaign?

  • Because it's easy to register the first time, and after that it's really easy to renew your registration
  • Because if it were a foundation it would be the 10th largest foundation in the United States
  • Because your small local nonprofit can raise reliable unrestricted money . . . CFC doesn't work only for large or well-known organizations
  • Because in terms of time to dollars it's one of the most leveraged fundraising vehicles.

2. Okay, you've got my attention. What is the Combined Federal Campaign?

CFC is the workplace giving (payroll deduction) program for employees of the U.S. federal government. If you are enrolled with CFC, any of the four million federal employees and military personnel can easily pledge to your organization. CFC is the only vehicle open to these employees.

3. How much can our nonprofit expect to generate from federal employees?

The unhelpful answer: Anywhere from zero to $6 million dollars. The helpful answer: a local nonprofit, by performing a few simple actions throughout the year should be able to generate somewhere between $1,000 to $10,000 annually. Some do worse, others better.

4. How do we enroll in the CFC and how much time will it take?

It will probably take you one or two days to fill out the application the first time, and less than one day in subsequent years. There are three types of enrollments, but whichever you use, your organization will be available to all federal employees everywhere:

  • National and international charities apply directly to OPM (Office of Personnel Management) which administers the CFC.
  • Local nonprofits apply directly to their regional CFCs.
  • Federations exist at all three levels, and enroll as a federation. Examples: EarthShare, Community Health Charities, United Ways

5. What percentage "cut" does CFC take from the donations?

The percentage varies regionally, and ranges from 4% to 10%. The more federal employees participate, the lower the percentage cost. Nationally about 32% of federal employees participate.

6. What else will it cost us?

Other costs to the nonprofit are up to you. You might spend time and money participating in charity fairs, in special mailings to your members, or in a sign that you hang on your building.

A great benefit is the time that government CFC volunteers put in conducting the campaigns each fall. There's also the cost of government facilities made available for kickoffs and charity fairs that are provided free of charge. In other words, the federal government and federal employees subsidize your CFC fundraising campaign.

7. We're already registered with CFC and we only get about four donations per year. What are some things we could do that take less than one hour to do to increase this dramatically?

  • Put the CFC logo with your CFC code on your home page.
  • Have all staff and board members put the CFC code in their email signatures.
  • Hang a banner with your organization's name and CFC code on your building like the American Red Cross does.
  • Put a "sandwich board" sign up on the median of a commuter artery with your CFC code number, as a local human services consortium does.

Don't forget that among your members, clients, patrons, and fans, there are many federal employees, military personnel, and their families. They will be glad to know that they can designate your organization -- which they care about so much -- as the recipient of their donations.

8. We don't have a "name brand" and our cause is controversial. Will we get any CFC donations?

If you have supporters, there's a good chance that some of them are federal employees or in the military. But they won't donate to you if they don't know you're registered and what your CFC number is.

Last thoughts?

There is a time lag between when the donor makes the pledge and when you get the contact information about the donors. So as soon you get their contact information, be sure to thank your donors and let them know how their dollars are being put to work. And think of some way to thank the CFC volunteers who conduct the campaigns where they work for the benefit of all the nonprofits in the CFC campaign.

Bill Huddleston was working at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and volunteering on the CFC campaign on September 11, 2001 when he saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. Reflecting on the issues led him to a career switch to the nonprofit sector. Bill is the author of forthcoming CFC Fundraisng: How to Grow Donors that Give for Decades. His site, www.cfcfundraising.com has more articles and tips on raising money through CFC.

See also in Blue Avocado:

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Comments

We are in the midst of our first CFC campaign season and are taking the opportunity to visit every workplace to which we are invited. Although we won't know for awhile how many new donors we sign up, we are definitely seeing the outreach advantages already! We have engaged new volunteers and program participants - even a potential board member. It especially struck me to hear the speeches given at these events by upper management - almost all have referenced the current economy and how federal employees have security others don't, encouraging their staffs to think about increasing their gift this year! I wholeheartedly endorse this author's advice - it is time well spent. ~Deborah Witmer Creative Activities/VSA WA (CFC#s: 63556/37485)!

Great article - concise, clear, comprehensive. What more could you ask?

Great article

We received CFC monies through EarthShare, until this year-- the CFC requires the full 990 to be filed, not the shorter version (which would cost our nonprofit nearly as much as the CFC generated last year according to our auditors), so just a heads up for other small nonprofits filing the shortened 990.

It is important indeed to consider accountability costs. For an interesting example of how small nonprofits were able to overcome an audit requirement that would have otherwise made CFC participation cost prohibitive, see http://blueavocado.org/content/agreed-upon-procedures-aup-success-story.

As another reader said, this is great for larger non-profits, but many very small ones can't benefit. Those who file a shortened 990, those who are too small to be able to use an independent certified public accountant, and those who do not write up an annual report are all disqualified. So if your nonprofit is small, it might not be worth it to try for this.

Bill, thank you for this article. It occurs to me that rather than call it "raising money from CFC" we should think of it as "raising money from federal employees." Your article helped me remember that it's raising money from people, not some institution called CFC. Jan

Thanks for all the comments on the article, and a special thanks to Jan and her team for the illumination that Blue Avocado brings to the non-profit sector. In response to several of the points made, I absolutely agree that the CFC is not for all non-profits, you need to look at similar non-profits in your region and see if the CFC makes sense for you. The CFC should never be any non-profit's sole source of revenue, but it can be a very reliable and predictable source of unrestricted revenue.

In terms of the concern the financial reporting regulations I do want to highlight the fact that there are 3 different size levels, and as the size increases, the financial reporting requirements increase as well. The sizes are: Revenue less than $100,000; Revenue from $100,000 to $250,000, and Revenue greater than $250,000. All non-profits that register need to submit the complete 990, and use the accrual method of accounting, but some of the other requirements depend upon the size.

Regarding size, I do know of one local, all volunteer non-profit that has a budget of $100,000 and raises approximately $50,000 each year through the CFC. For a small national non-profit (defined as providing services in 15 states) there is no leverage equal to the CFC national application. (One application, and your non-profit is automatically in all 250 CFCs worldwide - compare that to the work required to apply for 250 grants. Hope this helps. Bill Huddleston

Thank you for this information. I did not know of this resource and we will jump right on board and give it a go. I appreciate people like Bill and Blue Avocado for sharing and educating me. Olivia

Great article, thanks Bill, as you point out federal employees, memebers of the military and their families live just about every where and like to support local causes and organizations. Thanks for the article. Bruce Bruce Summers summersbw@verizon.net

I would add that workplace giving campaigns can be quite an administrative chore for nonprofits who would hope to reach federal employees in more than one state. Nearly all states (and even some cities and counties) require you to register with them as a charitable organization before you can participate in their local CFCs. This process can include annual fees, notarized signatures, separate applications, multiple paper copies, etc. I convinced a former employer to invest in the CFC, and I don't think they ever forgave me for it!

All, Bill has included some good, basic information for non-profits to obtain CFC resources. Our charity, Food for Others, has been obtaining funds through the CFC for years. Of course, we also seek funding through a matrix of alternative sources. We are also pleased to be invited to speak at various CFC "kickoff" events, and to man our display booth. I had an early "sneak peak" at Bill's book and found that it had even more very useful data. Don Wallace, FFO Board of Directors www.foodforothers.org

I found it to be a lot of work for a very small return on our investment. We're a small nonprofit but qualified easily. Agencies are supposed to promote both CFC and themselves by participating in CFC events - CFC wants government employees to donate through them rather than donating money on their own. Laura

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