Charitable Consternation

OPM has concerns about several charitable foundations participating in the CFC and whether they are complying with federal regulations.

The dollars you give to charity are important–and charities obviously want more of them to help fulfill their missions.

This year’s campaign has been unusual with an undercurrent of controversy unusual for the campaign. It first hit the media as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) unleashed its public relations machinery to publicly decline the usual $500,000 or so it would get from the campaign and express its dissatisfaction with government regulations on requirements for checking lists for possible terrorists. (See “Policy, Politics and Charity”)

The current Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is operating with an unusual backdrop this year as The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a controversy of a different kind that impacts twelve charitable foundations.

Here is the latest twist in an unsettling year for CFC charities. As a result of a complaint from other charities contending several organizations in the CFC were not following government regulations, the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General’s office conducted an audit.

As a result of the investigation, the Office of Personnel Management warned the charitable foundations that they were in violation of federal regulations and had to fix the problems or be excluded from the CFC.

People who give money through the CFC generally don’t want to think they are giving money to a good cause only to find themselves on a mailing list that gets sold to others so they can be hit up for more money on a regular basis.

The Office of Personnel Management oversees the CFC. It doesn’t want CFC donors’ names sold for other mailing lists either.

The charities who turned in their competitors for CFC dollars got the attention of OPM. One concern: The charitable federations in question do not have enough control over use of the names of people donating money. Federal regulations prohibit sale or use of the names of donors but the OPM IG uncovered evidence, including complaints from some federal employees, that their names were being sold or used for commercial purposes.

An attorney representing 11 of the federations requested that OPM withdraw its warnings because the federations have already made changes sought by the government.

The federations in question aren’t nickel and dime players in the charity industry. According to the The Chronicle of Philanthropy, they represent 776 national charities and received pledges amounting to $51.2-million, or 20 percent, of the total $248.5-million pledged through the CFC in 2003.

The OPM actions to date have been low key and probably not even noticed by the majority of potential CFC donors. The OPM web site has an asterisk beside the names of the federations and the asterisk refers to this statement: “An asterisk (*) next to the listing denotes that the Director has issued a warning to the campaign or federation which, due to the nature of the findings, could result in future decertification from pariticipation in the CFC. OPM monitors campaigns or federations that were warned as a result of the OIG audit. Warnings remain in effect until OPM has verified full implementation of all corrective actions pursuant to OIG findings.”

The organizations in question are:

Animal Charities of America

Children’s Charities of America

Christian Charities USA

Conservation & Preservation Charities

Do Unto Others

Educate America

Health/Medical Charities of America

Hispanic United Fund

Human & Civil Rights Organizations of America

Human Care Charities

Military, Veterans, and Patriotic Organizations

Women, Children and Family Service Charities of America.

The orgnizations have denied any wrongdoing but most of them agree with the changes and say they have already complied with OPM’s concerns. They are still eligible to receive charitable donations through the CFC. The asterisk will apparently not be removed though until OPM has had an opportunity to verify that the changes have been made to its satisfaction.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47