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EXCLUSIVE: Chick-fil-A To Stop Donations To Charities With Anti-LGBT Views

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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. 

A Chick-fil-A store in Chicago
A Chick-fil-A store in Chicago

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.”

EXCLUSIVE: Chick-fil-A To Stop Donations To Charities With Anti-LGBT Views
Chick-fil-A's first New York City restaurant at West 37th Street and Sixth Avenue

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. 

More than 100 LGBT and animal rights protesters showed up to opening day at Chick-fil-A’s first Toronto store in September. After protests and a boycott by a local LGBT group, the landlord behind a Chick-fil-A pop-up store at a mall in Reading, England, announced eight days into the lease it would not renew with the chain because the mall is meant to “offer an inclusive space where everyone is welcome.”

A Chick-fil-A in Scotland is still in operation, but company leaders still felt a new message was needed — especially in foreign markets, where the most prominent brand exposure to Chick-fil-A are headlines about its support for organizations with anti-LGBT stances.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A has been working on the new charitable structure since summer 2018, according to sources familiar with the process, and finally approved it in a board vote last week. But it will still take time for the plan to take effect.

The Chick-fil-A Foundation donated $115K to the Salvation Army and $1.65M to the FCA in 2018, according to a tax form filed Friday with the IRS. A company spokesperson said the donations were the last of multiyear commitments to the two groups. 

The company still maintains the donations were made for reasons completely unrelated to the organizations’ stance on LGBT issues. The FCA donation goes toward summer youth camps at the Atlanta HBCUs Morehouse College and Spelman College, according to the tax filing. The Salvation Army donation goes toward the organization’s Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts to children in need. 

The LGBT community took issue with the organizations in the past due to the FCA’s employment purity statement, which speaks out against sex outside marriage and “homosexual acts.” The Salvation Army has been accused of LGBT discrimination in the past. The organization has repeatedly denied those accusations, most recently on Monday afternoon after Chick-fil-A’s announcement.

“We’re saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations,” the organization said in a statement to Bisnow. “We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population.”

Looking ahead, Chick-fil-A leaders told Bisnow the mission of the company is to serve all members of its many communities. But the company also recognizes that changes are needed, especially if some communities don’t want to see a Chick-fil-A sign go up in their backyard. 

“When there is a tension, we want to make sure we’re being clear. We think this is going to be helpful,” Tassopoulos said. “It’s just the right thing to do: to be clear, caring and supportive, and do it in the community.”

 

UPDATE NOV. 18, 4:30 P.M.: This story has been updated to reflect the Salvation Army's response to Chick-fil-A's new charitable giving structure.