Chick-fil-A has detailed new plans to change the way it makes charitable donations, as the chain aims to avoid further controversies over donating to organizations with anti-LGBTQ attitudes.
Speaking to Bisnow, Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Tim Tassopoulos said that the Atlanta-based chain would focus its donations on directing larger sums to a smaller number of charities, with three “causes” to be targeted: hunger, homelessness, and education.
Under the new approach, the company will donate $25,000 to a local food bank in every city where it opens new locations. It will also direct multi-million dollar donations to two charities in particular: the education-focused Junior Achievement USA, and Covenant House, an organization that operates shelters and services for the homeless in the U.S., Canada, and Central America.
It’s a big change for a company which, at the start of the decade, was well-known for donating hefty sums of money to evangelical organizations, including those that campaigned against gay marriage.
After negative press, the chain swore off those kinds of political donations, but still drew controversy for the charities it supported, particularly after it was revealed that in 2017, it donated $1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). That organization describes its mission as “[using] the powerful platform of sport to reach every coach and every athlete with the transforming power of Jesus Christ,” and required staff to sign purity pledges that more or less barred them from being gay.
When those donations were revealed, the company faced public backlash, with airports in San Antonio and Buffalo trying to block Chick-fil-A from opening on their premises. There was also backlash to the backlash, with Texas passing the so-called “save Chick-fil-A” bill in an apparent attempt to counter the San Antonio airport decision.
The chain continued to donate to the FCA in 2018, to the tune of $800,000 (plus $115,000 to the Salvation Army, which has a spotty history with LGBTQ issues).
These donations came even after the chain had publicly announced that it had “no policy of discrimination against any group, and we do not have a political or social agenda.” (To be fair, the chain did not face accusations of discrimination in its restaurants, even though it did appear to be donating to organizations with some rather specific social agendas.)
Chick-fil-A’s new beneficiaries seem much more neutral — Junior Achievement helps to deliver educational programs focused on entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Meanwhile, Covenant House is nominally Christian (as its name suggests), but offers a wide range of services to homeless people in a non-discriminatory fashion.
The company is committing to fund those organizations for a year, and may donate to them again in future, or choose new charities — either way, the company is promising that donations will not go towards anti-LGBTQ groups.
There’s two ways to look at this. Pop on some rose-tinted glasses and it’s a case of, oh, cool, Chick-fil-A has finally addressed its problem of donating to organizations that are straight-up harmful to LGBTQ people. On the flipside, there are signs that this is a calculated move to benefit the business.
Tassopoulous said to Bisnow that “as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are” — implying that the shake-up to the chain’s charitable donation arm is a question of branding.
As the company tries to open up in new places like from the Bay Area to the UK (and draws negative attention in the process), its image undoubtedly needed a little rehabilitation to reassure people that, actually, it doesn’t hate the gays anymore. That said, Chick-fil-A is still headed up by ultra-devout Southern Baptist Dan Cathy, who pushed the anti-gay agenda, and there’s little evidence to suggest that he’s changed his views. Rather, he’s just learned to keep his mouth shut. So, even if Chick-fil-A isn’t supporting anti-gay charities anymore, customers who eat there are still supporting Cathy.