As Chick-fil-A expands globally and into more liberal parts of the U.S., the chicken chain plans to change which charities it donates to after years of bad press and protests from the LGBT community.
Beginning next year, Chick-fil-A will move away from its current philanthropic structure, Bisnow has learned. After donating to more than 300 charitable organizations this year, the Atlanta-based fast-food chain will instead focus on three initiatives with one accompanying charity each: education, homelessness and hunger. “There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are,” Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos said in an interview with Bisnow.
“There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message.” The new initiative will no longer include donating to organizations like the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Paul Anderson Youth Home, Chick-fil-A says, all of which sparked criticism in the past from the LGBT community due to the organizations’ stances on homosexuality.
The move comes after several U.S. airports rejected the company from concessions deals earlier this year. More recently, the landlord of the first Chick-fil-A in the U.K. announced eight days into its lease the pop-up venue would not be welcome to extend — all because of the company’s perceived anti-LGBT stance. The company is also months from opening its first location in Boston, where the late Mayor Thomas Menino pledged to ban the company from opening within city limits after Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy voiced his opposition to gay marriage in 2012.
Starting next year, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9M to organizations like Junior Achievement USA to support education, Covenant House International to fight homelessness and community food banks for its hunger initiative in each city where the chain operates. The company intends to dedicate $25K to a local food bank each time it opens a new location. “This provides more focus and more clarity,” Tassopoulos said. “We think [education, hunger and homelessness] are critical issues in communities where we do business in the U.S.”
Along with scholarships for team members and ongoing revitalization initiatives in its hometown of Atlanta, Chick-fil-A anticipates about $32M in cash gifts in 2020. The new giving structure moves away from the multiyear commitments Chick-fil-A had with the Salvation Army and the FCA and focuses on annual grants, which Tassopoulos said will be reviewed and assessed each year.
Future partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities, but the company said none of the organizations have anti-LGBT positions. While the philanthropic shift is an acknowledgment that past giving has hurt the company’s brand, it hasn’t negatively impacted sales. Chick-fil-A surpassed $1B in sales in 2001 and eclipsed the $5B mark in 2013, the year following Cathy’s statement on gay marriage. The chicken chain became the third-largest U.S. fast-food chain this year with $10.5B in sales, according to Nation’s Restaurant News data. Only McDonald’s and Starbucks bring in more revenue among fast-food chains.
But after years of “taking it on the chin,” as a Chick-fil-A executive told Bisnow, the latest round of headlines was impossible to ignore. This time, it was impeding the company’s growth. The San Antonio City Council was voting on an airport concessions contract in March when ThinkProgress reported that Chick-fil-A was still donating to anti-LGBT groups. The Chick-fil-A Foundation had donated $1.8M in 2017 to the Salvation Army, the FCA and the Paul Anderson Youth Home. A San Antonio city councilor brought up the article at the council meeting, and councilors voted in favor of the concessions contract — as long as a planned Chick-fil-A was dropped from the deal. The story had ripple effects. Delaware North, the concessions handler for Buffalo Niagara International Airport, also decided in March not to move ahead with plans for a Chick-fil-A at that airport, and officials in San Jose, California, announced they would not renew the chain’s lease at the airport when it runs out in 2026. The company’s giving history and Cathy’s previous comments on marriage equality have also dealt a reputational blow to its international expansion.