REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.a -- Bill Fowler remembers what it was like before the Combined Federal Campaign.
In 1972, at installations overseas where the Combined Federal Campaign had not yet migrated, enlisted Soldiers stood in line every payday to receive cash for their pay. Then, with cash in hand, they had to pass by various organizations and charities asking for a contribution from the Soldier's pocket.
"Every local charity that could would nickel and dime the Soldiers to death at payday," Fowler said. "Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Officers Wives Club, the 1st Sergeant Haircut Club and any group approved by the Garrison commander to come on post were all looking for a handout."
As a commissioned officer, Fowler would have to periodically serve as the on-duty pay officer and see the lines of organizations seeking donations from Soldiers.
"It really eased frustration quite a bit when it became a requirement for Soldiers to have a bank account so they could be paid by check," Fowler said. "And the annual solution that CFC offered was a good thing."
Although President John F. Kennedy established the Combined Federal Campaign in 1961, there was not yet a system for payroll deduction or the consolidation of all solicitation efforts into a single campaign. In 1964, the first "combined" campaigns -- consolidating all drives into one -- were conducted as experiments in six cities. The result: substantial increases in contributions ranging from 20 percent to 125 percent and a highly favorable response from federal employees and the organizers of the campaigns.
By 1971, all campaigns had been combined and President Richard Nixon announced that the Combined Federal Campaign would be the uniform fund-raising method for the federal service. Also, at the time, payroll deductions were introduced as a form of charitable contributions. As the Army pay system became more automated, Soldiers overseas were provided the opportunity to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign.
This year, the Combined Federal Campaign is celebrating "50 Years of Caring." It is the world's largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with more than 200 CFC campaigns throughout the country and internationally to help raise millions of dollars each year. Pledges made by federal civilian, postal and military donors during the campaign season (Sept. 1 to Dec. 15) support eligible non-profit organizations that provide health and human service benefits throughout the world.
Fowler, who is now retired from the Army and the director of Internal Review and Audit Compliance for the Aviation and Missile Command, appreciates how the Combined Federal Campaign is managed and the difference it is making in its communities.
"I like the way it's structured with a campaign once a year," he said. "We aren't solicited every payday for collections. And it extends beyond the military installation to the community. It helps make better the relationship between the military and civilian communities, and that hasn't always been the case."
Fowler is referring to the 1970s and the post-Vietnam era, when the military as a whole seemed detached from the nation. Today, the Combined Federal Campaign is one element that has helped to build a close connection between the military and the federal government employee, and the people they serve.
Fowler doesn't like to disclose the charitable agencies he contributes to because he doesn't want to influence the decisions of other employees. He believes whether to give, how much to give and what agencies to give to should be a personal choice.
Yet, he does have some guidelines that could help others in making those decisions.
"What I look for in a charity is what percentage of my contribution is going directly to the people the charity serves versus what percentage goes to administrative costs. If 40 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent goes to administrative costs, then that's too high and I am suspicious of that charity," he said.
"I gravitate toward charities with less overhead so more of my contribution goes to the people it serves."
The charities listed in the Combined Federal Campaign brochure are all vetted, meaning they have submitted financial and organization reports to a the Combined Federal Campaign committee that thoroughly reviews the charities and their work. CFC allows federal employees to designate what charities they want to contribute to through the Combined Federal Campaign.
"When it becomes a CFC charity, the vetting of the charity has already been done," Fowler said. "It is a recognized asset to the civilian community as well as to the military side."
Beyond a charity's financial situation, Fowler looks for a personal connection before deciding what charity he wants to contribute to through the Combined Federal Campaign.
"I have a brain-damaged brother-in-law who was injured in a car wreck," he said. "So, I am interested in charitable organizations that cater to incapacitated or severely injured adults. I would gravitate toward those.
"It's easier to choose a charity if you base that choice on personal life experiences. CFC provides us with an opportunity to give to charities we care about. But it is not the only charitable campaign. People give to their churches and other volunteer groups. So, it's a very personal thing whether to give or not to give to CFC, and what charity to give to."
Federal employees with children may want to give to a children's home, federal employees with older parents may want to give to an adult dementia group, federal employees who have a relative struggling with addiction may want to give to a halfway house, and the list of personal choices goes on.
"The number of charities that participate in CFC have grown immensely," Fowler said. "And the diversity of the charities has grown immensely. So there is an opportunity for everyone to give to a charity that fits their personal needs and interests. In that way, CFC helps you give back to the people in your life."