EARTHSHARE RESOURCES

Combined Federal Campaign 101

An introduction to the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC)

1. Introduction

If you’re a nonprofit who has been involved—or has interest in getting involved—in workplace giving campaigns, you may have heard of the Combined Federal Campaign, or CFC. Indeed, the CFC can be a great way to garner additional awareness and financial support for your nonprofit. But do you qualify as a possible CFC applicant? And what are the benefits?

We’ve created CFC 101 to answer these questions and more.

At EarthShare, we’ve been helping environmental nonprofits participate in the Combined Federal Campaign for decades. We’re well-versed in the application process, nonprofit requirements, and best practices to get your nonprofit noticed by millions of potential donors. To date, we have driven more than $375 million through hundreds of campaigns to urgent environmental issues.

When you join our network of more than 500 environmentally focused nonprofits across America, you increase your impact and amplify your mission. Discover the vital services and support EarthShare provides to our Nonprofit Partners by applying for the Combined Federal Campaign—all at a cost you can afford. When we band together, we can make the world a stronger, healthier, and more sustainable place.

A CLOSER LOOK

Workplace Giving Programs

Workplace giving programs allow employees to give to nonprofit organizations through payroll deductions (typically every pay period) and one-time check or credit card donations. To learn more about workplace giving programs and campaigns, check out our Workplace Giving 101 article!  

2. What Is the Combined Federal Campaign CFC?

The CFC is one of the world’s largest annual workplace giving campaigns for nonprofits, raising millions of dollars annually for participating organizations. Made up of several individual campaigns (known as “zones”), which are organized geographically within the U.S. and internationally, the CFC receives pledges from federal employees, members of the military, and retired individuals from each of these groups. These pledges signify what the aforementioned individuals plan to give through payroll deduction the following calendar year or via credit card payment. The campaign season runs from September to January every year, and donations from this campaign support eligible nonprofits that benefit health and human services around the world.

The Combined Federal Campaign is run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and its director has responsibility for the day-to-day management of the program and its CFC office.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Not just one of the largest workplace giving campaigns in the country, the CFC is also one of the oldest. Federal workplace fundraising for nonprofits dates back to the 1940s, but it wasn’t until 1961 that these campaigns were given formal authority with guidelines and regulations. Three years later, in 1964, the Combined Federal Campaign was officially created.

CFC ZONES

The Combined Federal Campaign used to be divided into more than 150 zones across the country based on geographical location. Over time, many of these zones were consolidated, bringing the total number down to 36. Broken down by state or region and centered around federal executive boards and large military organizations, these zones help improve accountability throughout the campaign and make the overall disbursement of funds more efficient.

When applying to the CFC, a nonprofit can choose to participate in one local zone (based on your office headquarters location) or at the national/international level. The difference is two-fold: initial cost and where your organization will be marketed. Regardless of whether you’ve applied nationally or within your geographical zone, your organization can be searched and found by any individual donating through the CFC Donor Pledging System. However, participating at the national level will offer more opportunities for your nonprofit to be actively marketed to employees across the country. Applying to the national campaign also comes with higher costs (outlined below)

Not sure what CFC zone you’re in? You can find out here.

3. Benefits of the CFC

Now that you know more about the what, let’s talk about the why.

More donations.

Let’s just get the elephant out of the room. The biggest benefit of being involved in a workplace giving campaign of any kind is donations for your organization. However, donations from one workplace giving campaign are unlikely to support the full scope of needs of a nonprofit organization. That’s where the other CFC benefits come in: donors and awareness.

Given the CFC’s long history and positive track record as a government-administered workplace giving campaign, it is trusted by many as the vehicle for their donations. This equates to millions of employees who actively want to give but may not know who your organization is or even that you’re an option for their money. Participating in the CFC campaign can put you directly in front of these donors, introducing you and your work to a brand-new audience. In 2021, more than $78 million was raised through the CFC. Of this, EarthShare helped drive over $2.2M to our environmental nonprofit participants alone.

All donations that come through the CFC are unrestricted gifts. This means that Nonprofit Partners can utilize the funds as needed without any strings or stipulations attached.

Money raised through the CFC is paid out on a quarterly basis throughout the following year (via EarthShare), which acts as another benefit for many nonprofits. Having a consistent and predictable revenue stream can be difficult in the world of fundraising, so knowing what pledges you will be receiving up front is incredibly helpful when planning your annual budget.

Finally, the CFC can also help you garner new volunteers! Throughout the course of the 2021 Combined Federal Campaign, nearly 100,000 individuals volunteered their time with participating nonprofits, accounting for more than $1 million in monetary value.

4. EarthShare's Role

The biggest hurdle for most nonprofits when it comes to workplace giving campaigns is time. Especially for small-to-mid-sized nonprofits with limited staff, finding the time to complete an application for one or more campaigns can be difficult, if not impossible. That’s where EarthShare comes in. 

As a federation, we submit applications for our Nonprofit Partners under EarthShare. We work with our Partners to make sure their applications are up to par before we submit them, and we handle the application and listing process as well as pay all associated costs upfront. Costs we cover are deducted from future donation payouts as the campaign occurs, so our Partners are never paying directly out-of-pocket for our services.

Benefits of Applying Through EarthShare

Why is it better to apply through EarthShare? You get:  

  • All fees covered up front
  • Application support
  • Appeals support
  • Participation best practice guidance
  • Promotion during the campaign
  • Potential speaking opportunities during the campaign
  • Donor information
  • Payouts simplified 

Your next steps

Interested in applying to the Combined Federal Campaign through EarthShare? First, you’ll need to join our Nonprofit Partner Network! If you’re an environmental 501(c)(3) organization that is not already in our network, reach out to us at [email protected] for more details on how to apply.

For existing Nonprofit Partners, you can complete the CFC application packet provided by EarthShare when it is launched in September. If you have not previously participated in the CFC and would like to be notified when it launches, email [email protected] to request application notification. The EarthShare team will guide you through the process.

5. How to Apply

To be considered for the Combined Federal Campaign, organizations must complete the CFC application that is made available each Fall. At EarthShare, we begin preparing Nonprofit Partners for this application as early as September.

Basic annual requirements include: 

  • A completed application form 
  • An IRS Form 990 (signed and dated by your officer) 
  • An audit (for organizations with revenue greater than $250,000) 
  • An audit or financial review (for organizations with revenue greater than $100,000 but less than $250,000) 
  • Certification of established controls to ensure that funds are properly accounted for, and the organization can provide accurate and timely financial information to interested parties (for organizations with revenue less than $100,000, financial statements are not yet required)

If you are a first-time applicant, you will also need to submit Attachment A (Areas of Service). LOCAL PARTICIPANTS must include a table that shows a minimum of five different services provided in the region where your main office is located. All services must take place within the calendar year. The CFC only requires one approved example; however, EarthShare requests our Nonprofit Partners submit five so there are backup examples should any not be approved. 

For NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPANTS, a table must be included that demonstrates services for a minimum of 18 U.S. states OR a minimum of 3 countries. Services can be from the current calendar year as well as the previous two years. The CFC requires a minimum of 15 approved services for national participation and 1 approved service for international participants. EarthShare requests Partners submit more than this in case any of them are not approved. (For specific guidelines, reach out to your EarthShare Campaigns contact or email [email protected].)

NOTE: Completing Attachment A as a national or international organization is much more time-intensive than it is for local applicants. It’s important to give yourself enough time to complete this portion of the application. The Office of Personnel Management is strict in enforcing the guidelines for Attachment A, so be sure to read the instructions carefully and completely if you are filling out this portion. As an EarthShare Nonprofit Partner, we’ll be here to answer any and all questions and provide guidance on these details to make sure you have a compelling and complete application. 

An updated Attachment A document is required every three years after initial submittal.

WHO CAN APPLY?

According to the OPM website, “CFC Nonprofits are organizations with status as tax-exempt nonprofits as determined by the Internal Revenue Service, under 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the United States Code.” To qualify for the CFC, your organization must also provide health and human services and meet all CFC eligibility requirements as follows: 

  • LOCAL – MUST have a local presence and provide services within the local campaign zone to which they are applying. These services must take place in the calendar year that immediately precedes the application year. (Example: For the 2022 application year, the services must have taken place between 2021 and 2022.) 
  • NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL – MUST provide services in at least 18 different U.S. states or 3 different countries over the three-year period immediately preceding the application year. (Example: For the 2022 application year, the services must have taken place between 2019 and 2022.)
  • INTERNATIONAL – An organization is considered international if they provide services exclusively (or in majority) to people in regions outside of the United States. To prove eligibility, an international organization must provide evidence of services provided in a minimum of one foreign country in the year immediately preceding the campaign application year. (Example: For the 2022 application year, the services must have taken place between 2021 and 2022.)   

BEST PRACTICE TIP

National & International Organizations

If you’re qualified to apply as both a National and International organization, choose to apply as National. All National nonprofit applicants are listed as “National/International,” whereas International nonprofit applicants are only listed as “International.”

COST

There are three separate fees that come with applying to the Combined Federal Campaign: the application fee, the listing fee, and the distribution fee. These fees come from the Office of Personnel Management and, except for the distribution fee, are due when submitting your application. EarthShare covers the upfront application and listing fees for Nonprofit Partners who apply through us.

In general, it is less expensive to apply as a Local Nonprofit. By participating locally, your organization will only be marketed/promoted in the zone to which you apply. However, federal employees across the country will still be able to give to your nonprofit. 

  • APPLICATION FEE | Fee for applying to the campaign.
    • Local organization: $245
    • National/International organization: $375
  • LISTING FEE | Fee charged for an organization to be listed in the campaign after their application has been accepted
    • Local organization:
      • Tier 1 ($1M or more in revenue) – $620
      • Tier 2 (between $250k and $1M in revenue) – $105
      • Tier 3 (less than $250k in revenue) – $14
    • National/International Organizations:
      • Tier 1 ($1M or more in revenue) – $1,775
      • Tier 2 (between $250k and $1M in revenue) – $510
      • Tier 3 (less than $250k in revenue) – $305
  • DISTRIBUTION FEE | Based on gross pledges, this percentage fee is assessed at the end of the campaign year by OPM. This percentage fee is withheld by OPM in the first payout for the campaign year. In the past, this number has hovered between 18% and 23%

6. Best Practices for Campaign Participation

As you begin to prepare materials and assets for the CFC application, there are some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind. From donor reminders to digital assets, make sure you have everything you need for a successful campaign!

Don’t Forget Your Marketing Materials

Once you have applied and been accepted, your EarthShare team will help you upload a video, success story, and custom photos to the CFC’s virtual nonprofit fair. This is a great way to get your nonprofit some name recognition while educating potential donors on who you are, what you do, and why they should support.  

(Note: the CFC has specific requirements regarding what can be provided, so please engage with your EarthShare team for those details.)  

Donor Acknowledgements and Reminders

Send a fall mailing to past CFC donors to re-engage with these individuals. Once the campaign season has ended, make sure to thank your CFC donors and steward them throughout the year.

(Note: Please be careful NOT to solicit these donors separate from the CFC. Also, the CFC has very strict rules on what can be sent to government email addresses, so be sure to engage your EarthShare team for that information!)

BEST PRACTICE TIP

CFC Donor Acknowledgements

CFC Donor Acknowledgement Best Practices: Federations like EarthShare cannot send acknowledgements to donors that give to Nonprofit Partners. It is up to the Nonprofit Partner to cultivate their donors.

Post your CFC Number EVERYWHERE

Once you have been accepted into the Combined Federal Campaign, your organization will be given a CFC number. This is how donors and interested parties will be able to find you (and donate to you) in the CFC database. You will want to make this number as known as possible.

  • Have a workplace giving section on your website that includes your CFC number.
  • Put your CFC number in your website’s header and/or main navigation.
  • Post about your organization participating in the CFC on social media and include your CFC number.
  • Consider testing targeted paid social media advertising to donor audiences, sharing your CFC number during the campaign season.
  • Mention your participation in the CFC and include your CFC number in all newsletters and external communications.
  • Put your CFC number in your email signature.
  • Put your CFC number on your business cards.

7. Application Timeline

The following timeline outlines the Combined Federal Campaign application process for EarthShare Nonprofit Partners. To view the complete Office of Personnel Management CFC timeline, you can visit their website’s Calendar of Events 

YEAR 1: September 

EarthShare will send out communications to notify when the CFC application is open to EarthShare Nonprofit Partners interested in participating in the Combined Federal Campaign the following Fall.

For existing Partners, this notification will include the EarthShare CFC application packet when it launches in September. If you have not previously participated in the CFC and would like to be added to our interest list, email [email protected] to request application notification. The EarthShare team will guide you through the process and assist when needed. 

YEAR 1: October

EarthShare requests that Nonprofit Partners submit their complete CFC application information to EarthShare by the last Friday in October. This allows us ample time to review and submit all Nonprofit Partners interested in participating. If past this date, please reach out to your EarthShare team to see if we can expedite, review, and submit your application before the CFC application deadline at the end of January. EarthShare’s early deadline provides enough time for a thorough review of each application to minimize denials.

Our team reviews every application and reaches out to Nonprofit Partners throughout November and December with questions we may have in order to help increase the chances of each organization being accepted into the campaign.

YEAR 2: January 

  • EarthShare submits all Nonprofit Partner CFC applications by the January CFC deadline.  
  • EarthShare pays all application fees on behalf of Nonprofit Partners.  
  • CFC fees are recouped by EarthShare during our quarterly payout cycle, which begins the July following the CFC campaign solicitation period. 

YEAR 2: June 

  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) notifies EarthShare of eligibility decisions.  
  • Any applications that are denied will need to be appealed within ten (10) business days. 
  • The EarthShare team works closely with our Nonprofit Partners to make sure we have all materials needed for appeals and will submit these appeals on your behalf.  
  • In years past, the few appeals we have received have all then been accepted, and for the 2022 campaign, we received no denials: all Partners were accepted. 

YEAR 2: August 

  • EarthShare completes all listing information for our Nonprofit Partners.  
  • Listing information includes your logo, volunteer information, automated thank you messages (called Care Statements), and other items which are all collected with your initial EarthShare CFC application.)  
  • EarthShare pays the listing fee on behalf of Nonprofit Partners.  
  • These fees are recouped by EarthShare during our quarterly payout cycle, which begins the July following the CFC campaign solicitation period.

YEAR 2/3: September – January  

  • The CFC solicitation period begins.  
  • This period typically runs from September 1st to January 15th. During this solicitation period, federal employees and retirees will be invited to make annual pledges and one-time donations through the CFC online system.  
  • Speaking events and tabling events will take place across the country to build awareness for the campaign.  
  • EarthShare will coordinate with the CFC to engage participating EarthShare Nonprofit Partners in these events as they become available.  
  • We also participate in a wide variety of events as EarthShare representing the federation as a whole.  
  • Funds raised directly by EarthShare in the CFC are compiled as undesignated funds that are distributed to Nonprofit Partners on an annual basis, based on board designated distribution criteria.
 
(Note: Donations via payroll deductions occur from January through December of the following calendar year.)

YEAR 3: July  

EarthShare’s first disbursement of all workplace giving campaign donations will begin in July and continue quarterly for approximately six payouts. (Costs are taken out of the first four distributions.)

While the time horizon may be long, your participation in the CFC will yield consistent benefits to help develop key fundraising for your organization’s mission and programs. EarthShare is honored to partner with you in these efforts, fulfilling our mission of helping everyone take action for a healthy planet!