Charity an integral part of American culture

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
Support for charities and charitable organizations is an integral part of American culture, dating back to the earliest days of our country. From Ben Franklin's establishment of the nation's first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia, to families relying on each other for survival on the frontier, Americans display an innate ability to rally around a cause and help their fellow man. That desire to help and promote benevolent causes eventually led to the establishment of American organized charity and non-profit operations.

American charitable societies began to appear in the early 1800s, and by the dawn of the 20th century, they were well established as public institutions in America. The number of organizations has continued to grow, and today there are more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States (according to National Center for Charitable Statistics). Annual charitable giving across the entire country adds up to approximately $300 billion. U.S. citizens have a nearly endless list of organizations to which they can lend support, representing an equally impressive list of causes. For those that choose to support a cause, the challenge of selecting a worthy, well-run organization can be daunting.

Given the sheer number of organizations, and means by which to give, it can be challenging to ensure that charitable donations are used prudently. Some direct mail and telephone solicitors, for example, take a significant cut (50-100 percent) of funds they are collecting on behalf of non-profits - even if they state otherwise. A recent article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine details the high percentage of contributions retained by a telemarketing firm, while a CNN article from earlier this year outlines a charity (ostensibly supporting veterans) that made massive payments to a direct-mail fundraising company - while simultaneously failing to provide any meaningful support to veterans at all. Some non-profits themselves have high administration costs, leaving only a fraction of every dollar given to true charitable work. Still others will add donors to a permanent marketing list, spending more money sending mailers over the next five years than was initially donated.

While this is somewhat disconcerting, the Combined Federal Campaign represents a safe and effective option for federal employees wishing to make contributions to non-profit organizations. In order to be eligible for the CFC, charities must meet 10 accountability standards. Of particular note, they must be tax-exempt, submit their latest tax return, undergo an audit by an independent certified public accountant, have a dedicated office open at least 15 hours a week, and provide information regarding how much of their revenue is spent on administration and advertising. Charities are also prohibited from selling or leasing donor names and CFC donors have the option to keep their names hidden from the charity altogether.

The CFC offers a choice of more than 4,000 non-profit organizations and the option to authorize direct deduction from your paycheck. The paycheck deduction represents a convenience for the donor, but also allows your selected charities to receive monthly funding throughout the year. These benefits, and the inherent giving nature of our nation, are big reasons why CFC is the largest and most successful workplace fundraising model in the world.

I am proud to serve a charitable country, whose spirit of giving supports so many non-profit organizations and benevolent causes. I am also proud to serve a nation where the choice on whether to support a cause, and how one chooses to do so, is ultimately up to each individual. Some individuals give a portion of their paycheck, while others volunteer their time and services. The CFC represents just one means to make a difference, and it is a reliable and trustworthy means to support your cause.