Gains and Losses

Annual Giving Campaign Is Off to a Strong Start

Posted October 25, 2005 at 2:51pm

“No donor fatigue in this campaign,” reads the Web site of the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area.

The numbers seem to bear out that optimistic claim. The Washington, D.C., branch of the CFC, a national organization that allows federal employees to give to multiple local and national charities simultaneously through one-time gifts or payroll deductions, raised $265,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief before the campaign even began this year, according to Executive Director Tony Descristofaro.

By last Friday, the end of the third week of the campaign, $5.3 million in donations had been pledged, up $1.7 million from the same week last year, Descristofaro said. A total of 16,393 federal employees had participated, according to the organization’s Web site.

These increases are consistent with the CFC’s growth over the past few years. The 2001 campaign yielded an 8 percent increase in donations, said Mara Patermaster, director of the office of CFC operations. Since then, campaign growth rates have been “very healthy,” averaging 4 percent a year, she said. As for this year’s dramatically higher early numbers, Patermaster said, “one can surmise that if there has been an increase in pledges over last year that it has to do with hurricane relief.”

However, the campaign is a clearinghouse for hundreds of charity organizations, and some of them don’t have anything to do with hurricane relief. The results of this fall’s campaign will not be known until March, but in general member charities that are directly involved with the Gulf Coast relief are seeing gains, while some other local charities are reporting a downturn in donations.

“We love the CFC. It’s wonderful!” said Peggy Morrison-Curtis, development director of So Others May Eat, a Washington-based charity that provides a wide range of services for the District’s poor and homeless, from food to addiction and employment counseling.

Morrison-Curtis said her organization receives about 8 percent of its funding annually from the CFC and United Way. She said her organization’s revenues had experienced “a little bit of a negative hit” after Katrina. “It’s a concern,” she said.

However, SOME historically has been very popular with CFC givers, and she hopes that will continue. “I would like to be optimistic and say CFC is not going to be affected at all,” she said.

Linda Tanenbaum, assistant director of the Family Support Center in Bethesda, Md., a nonprofit dealing with children and substance abuse, said it was too early to say what effect the hurricanes might have on her organization’s fortunes. But “responses are coming in very slowly” this year to the center’s annual fall dinner celebration, a major source of income, she said.

Meanwhile, two local animal charities that participate in the CFCNCA have seen their donations rise, perhaps because of their work following Katrina.

Robin Walker of the Washington Humane Society said her organization sent nine workers to the Gulf Coast to help after Katrina. Their experience was featured on the society’s Web site, and donations have increased.

The Washington Animal Rescue League also sent a team to New Orleans, which rescued and treated 55 animals, including a potbelly pig. David Ferraris, the organization’s development director, said his organization expects to bring in more money than usual because of Katrina, with a good amount of it coming from the Internet. “September has been a good month,” he said.

Ferraris praised the work the CFC did, and said that his organization saved the fundraising effort by participating in it. He said whenever possible it would send a dog to the charity fairs, a practice Morrison-Curtis of SOME jokingly called unfair, because donors always wanted to play with the puppy.

Some organizations that seem to be in line for more donations because of the hurricanes are in fact facing hardships because of them. Katherine Dunbar, executive director of the Red Cross of Jefferson and Morgan counties in West Virginia, said “when you send a donation for Katrina, that’s where it goes. I don’t keep any of it.”

Her small county office pays for stamps and thank you notes to Katrina donors, and doesn’t get reimbursed for them. Dunbar said she hoped the CFC donors’ enthusiasm to help Katrina victims would not lesson their support for offices like hers, but she thought it would. The hurricanes, along with the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in December, would “probably hurt a lot of people,” she said, “including local chapters.”

The CFC continues through December. To make a pledge or donation, visit