State CFC Applications 101

February 7, 2020  |  Grace Duginski

End-of-year is finally, finally over. If you’re a nonprofit fundraising staffer, you’ve probably just taken your first real stretch of PTO in months. (Maybe you even took PTO without checking email, you thought leader!) Back in December, you probably applied for the federal/universal Combined Federal Campaign, also known as CFC or the government employee workplace giving program. 

Government workers, including federal civilian, postal, and military workers, benefit from the CFC program because the donation process is very straightforward: all they need to do is look your organization up from a list of registered nonprofits, make a pledge, and their gift will be deducted from their paycheck. As a result, there’s no need for donors to fuss with making cash, card, or check payments, and they have the added flexibility of choosing whether or not to make their gift anonymously (though many do choose to share their names and contact information in order to receive an acknowledgment). 

The federal CFC can be a profitable source of revenue, but unfortunately your work isn't over yet: now it's time to turn your focus to the state campaign applications. Consider this your State CFC Applications 101 – from charity federations to licensing to data collection, we hope this makes the process as smooth as possible. 

First, decide if it’s worth it. 

If you have any data on how much you’ve been able to raise from participating in prior years’ campaigns, now’s the time to pull and analyze it! Then, consider the current state of CFC at the state and federal levels – and the general stagnation of federal and state employee paychecks, which in turn shrinks their ability to donate. It’s time to check any data you have for upward or downward trends in how much you’ve been able to earn over the years from CFC participation. Also, ask yourself if you have the staff bandwidth to manage these applications, since they do involve managing some moving parts. 

See which states you qualify for and keep a close eye on deadlines as they’re released. 

Figuring out if you qualify for each individual state will generally mean at least two things: (1) calculating the percentage of your operating costs spent on fundraising according to your Form 990 (to see if it’s low enough to participate), and (2) seeing if you qualify to apply for that state, considering the geographic area where you provide your services. Unfortunately, each state has its own idiosyncrasies and rules, so you’ll need to track each deadline and application as the state releases them. 

If you think you might need help managing all of these elements, consider joining a charity federation! 

Joining a charity federation can help streamline the application process. The perks of joining a charity federation are mostly time-related. Some are local or issue-based, but others are broader, such as America’s Best Charities. Regardless of which one you choose, paying the fee for membership will provide you with help in completing your state CFC applications. As Workplace Giving Alliance puts it: “while eligibility requirements are public, preparing a successful application may not be intuitive. Federations can help applicants understand what is required, spot application weaknesses early in the process, and advise on ways to address them.” 

Some federations are set up to allow you, as a member, to check one centralized online portal for state applications as they’re released, and easily track deadlines there. (Some state applications, you can even submit right there in the portal!) Federations can also act as a valuable information-bearer between the state offices in charge of releasing the application, and your nonprofit – and can sometimes be very helpful in getting you the updated information you need in a timely fashion if the application process or deadline changes. 

Getting licenses to solicit in the appropriate state? Consider hiring an attorney. 

Firstly, yes, every nonprofit needs to obtain licenses to solicit in the appropriate states – nonprofits who don’t register run the risk of being shut down for noncompliance, even if it feels unlikely that you’d be audited for missing items like those. Because the license-obtaining process can be complicated, instead of trying to teach yourself the legalese you’d need to DIY even one of these license applications, consider hiring an attorney to complete them. (And it goes without saying that when you do your cost-benefit analysis for participating in federal and state CFCs, you should factor in any fees you’ll incur by hiring an attorney for these parts.) 

Internal data collection best practices: de-silo, de-silo, de-silo. 

Hot tip: as you collect data on your program services to reference in your applications and written statements, put it all in one place – whether that’s using dedicated fields in your CRM or setting up something more low-tech like a master spreadsheet, you’ll need a place to keep adding new data as necessary year after year and content area to content area. That way, not only can you analyze patterns and more effectively talk up how you’ve been providing vital services in any given state, but you can collect that data more quickly by letting the relevant departments at your nonprofit enter that data themselves instead of bottlenecking it through the one or two staffers tasked with completing these CFC applications. 

Spring is a time of renewal – including for workplace giving pledges. Follow these tips and watch your pledge count blossom! Making giving as convenient as possible for your donors is the best way to increase conversions and raise more money. For donors who aren't government workers, use pre-filled donation forms to ensure that giving is quick and easy.