The Combined Federal Campaign launched its long-awaited new central online giving portal this week, with a feature that gives donors options to search for military installations’ family and youth programs that qualify for CFC donations.

There’s a specific category for these organizations on the CFC portal’s front search page. A quick search of a few installations showed donors could direct their dollars to youth programs at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas; Army Child, Youth and School Services at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; the Airman and Family Readiness Center at South Korea’s Osan Air Base; and the Fisher House at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

Donors can search for these organizations at specific installations on a pulldown menu. These programs have a different application process than private civilian charities seeking to join the CFC; for example, the application must include a letter from the installation commander signing off on participation in the campaign.

For several years, federal employee donors have been able to pledge money to charities that provide services in specific areas, regardless of where they lived. For example, a donor in Virginia could give money to an organization in California. But this is the first time a prominent search feature specific to organizations on military bases has been available.

It’s not a complete listing of military installations; there’s a preponderance of Air Force bases compared with other services. Not every base listed has an organization associated with it that is accepting CFC donations. And there appear to be some glitches: It’s not clear, for example, why the Fisher House in San Diego pops up as an organization associated with U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany.

Donors can use multiple search variables to zero in on charities of interest. They can search by charity name, CFC number, keyword, category, geographic area, campaign zone and administrative and fundraising rate, or AFR. That rate represents the percentage spent by the charity on expenses other than services.

The website also allows donors to search for charities with volunteer opportunities available, as the CFC now allows donors to pledge to volunteer their time for specific groups.

The installation-related charities are a small percentage of the total charities participating in the CFC. Those seeking military-related charities in the private sector can choose from 131 combined groups in two federations, the Military Family and Veterans Service Organizations of America and Military Support Groups of America.

Thousands of other charities support causes in the local, national and international communities ranging from the arts and culture to animal issues to medical research.

“I have no idea how the new website giving platform will affect military charities, but I can say that in recent years online giving has resulted in higher participation rates and higher average gifts, according to [the Office of Personnel Management],” said Patrick Maguire, whose firm Maguire/Maguire provides support services for 22 independent charitable federations, including the two military-related federations. “However, at the federation level we have had no way of knowing which gifts were made online and which by paper.”

Different CFC zones have operated websites that allow donors to pledge online; this new portal is expected to consolidate information for donors, save operating costs and increase efficiency.

The donor pool starting this year will include retirees, who will be able to pledge to their favorite charities through CFC and donate through deductions from their government annuities.

The CFC has gone through major changes this year, and there have been delays. The annual pledge season started Oct. 2, a month later than usual, and its end date has been extended to Jan. 12. Local campaigns choose their time frame within that window for agencies to solicit pledges from their workforce.

OPM delayed the drive’s start to give local CFC zones more time to incorporate program changes, and also allowed a grace period for charities locate in areas affected by recent hurricanes.

Although some local CFC zones have started their pledge season, donors weren’t able to make pledges until the complete list of local, national and international charities was made available Monday.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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