Efficiency is an important goal, but local CFC administrators are already expressing their fear that cuts may be sending the wrong message to those who volunteer to help run the Campaign. CFC operations depend heavily on volunteers, and recruiting them is challenging. Might they feel better appreciated if some way can be found to buy some coffee and donuts? Maybe even a lunch?
However the struggle over donuts works out, big changes are coming down the road. The CFC-50 Commission offered the government a range of ideas on how Campaign costs could be reduced, or at least better controlled. Two important ones were:
- Create a “one-stop shop” central website that lists all national and local charities, has a robust search function, and allows centralized online giving.
- Consolidate PCFO back office functions into regional receipt and disbursement centers or a national center.
Once the details are worked out and the new system spreads across the country, donors everywhere will likely tap into a single national website to look for charities. The government hopes, we assume, that a unified national website and associated pledge system will cut costs. We join them in that hope.
Beyond efficiency, it is worth noting that the proposed system will reduce the importance of geography. As before, all donors everywhere will see the same list of national and international charities. The difference will be at the local level, where all charities regardless of location will be visible to all donors around the world. In this year’s CFC, a donor sitting in, say, Denver can pledge only to local charities based in or near that community. Under the new system, the Denver donor will be able to support local charities in Boston or San Diego or wherever. We can imagine that many donors, especially those in the military, will welcome this change.
As suggested a moment ago, the government also seems quite interested in consolidating the backroom operations of the CFC. Right now, almost 200 PCFOs separately send reports and money to participating charities and their federations. Everyone is happy to get the money, but the paperwork can be overwhelming. And because the government does not require a standard format for reporting, charities often are not quite sure what they are receiving.
Centralizing the CFC’s “back room” seems an obvious way to cut costs and improve accuracy. The CFC-50 Commission noted, though, that the government should balance the advantages of consolidation with the need to preserve the local flavor of the CFC.
And there’s another issue besides local flavor. As the government strips functions away from PCFOs (today the websites, tomorrow the pledge reports, next week the distribution of money), the PCFO role itself may become less attractive. We are not suggesting that the repetitive pushing of paper be preserved so that PCFO budgets get to stay high. We are wondering, however, whether the CFC will discover that a greatly diminished role for local administrators makes it substantially harder to recruit local organizations to do the job.
And, if we lose the PCFOs, do we lose the ability to engage donors?