Just what is the connection between McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House?

A recent Alternet article expresses a great deal of criticism against McDonald’s for its lack of funding of its charity Ronald McDonald House (RMH). The key facts from this article (and the report linked from it, titled “Clowning Around with Charity”) that I found most shocking:

  • McDonald’s only provides 20% of the funding for RMH globally.
  • McDonald’s spends almost 25 times as much on advertising as they do on charitable donations. (That’s a little over 4 cents in donations for every $1 on ads.)
  • One of RMH’s projects, the “Tooth Truck” in the Ozarks, is 50% funded by Medicaid, with the other 50% funded by community donations, and it would appear zero coming from McDonald’s themselves.
  • McDonald’s raked in $27 billion last year, yet contributes only 0.08% of revenue to charity versus an industry average of 0.12%. (While the difference may seem small as a percentage, when multiplied by $27 billion you get $21.6 million and $32.4 million, or a difference of $10.8 million.)
  • McDonald’s claims the “donation box” contributions to RMH, which came from the customers’ own pockets, as its own.

The last two of these I find particularly troubling. For one, McDonald’s themselves barely has any business touching the money dropped into the change boxes to count it, let alone claim it as though it came from the company. It also doesn’t sit well with me that the RMH brand name sits on a project which McDonald’s themselves didn’t fund at all (and by extension, McDonald’s gets free brand PR benefit). How many other “Tooth Trucks” are out there?

To the Houston community and myself, the late timing of this article couldn’t have been more unfortunate. It came less than two weeks after Twestival Houston had come and gone, and most of two months after it would have done the most good. Twestival Houston, in the end, selected our local RMH chapter as the beneficiary. I was on the committee for Twestival Houston, and at least had some say in which six charities would be on the ballot to be voted on by the community to be our ultimate beneficiary. (I nominated Texas Children’s Hospital, which did not make the cut, and I am fine with that.)

I like what RMH does. I have no regrets about helping a fundraiser for RMH which benefits their mission. Given a chance to do it all over again, I would. But none of the goodwill I have towards RMH transfers to McDonald’s. None of it. In fact I consider McDonald’s getting free brand PR from RMH to be a liability on RMH, not an asset.

I don’t like that McDonald’s is being as stingy as they think they can get away with, contributing an abysmal 20% of the funding while enjoying 100% of the brand PR. I already no longer eat at McDonald’s restaurants for unrelated reasons, and have given them only a nominal amount of business in the past year. I think it crosses all sorts of common sense ethical boundaries for McDonald’s to do what they are doing with RMH and I would like to think

McDonald’s has at least two good choices that resolve this ethical problem:

  1. Change the name of RMH to something that no longer confuses the public into thinking McDonald’s funds all or most of it. Quit licensing the McDonald’s brand to RMH. Continue funding the charity at a comparable level to the status quo, while inviting other companies (like perhaps Coca-Cola) to pick up the slack.
  2. Fund RMH like a company that makes $27 billion in revenue should fund a charity from which it derives such a large brand PR benefit. In line with this, McDonald’s should also make sure its employees are paid a living wage at corporate stores, and that its franchisees also do the same. An apology for falling way short of how a company that makes $27 billion in revenue should have been doing business in the past few years would be appreciated as well, but I’m not holding my breath.

McDonald’s should be giving to its charitable causes, not taking from them to pad its profits. I’d like to think no other company of similar size and stature would dare try to get away with this. Please realize there are other choices besides McDonald’s when it comes to fast food.

2 thoughts on “Just what is the connection between McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House?”

  1. Disclaimer: I've benefitted from the Ronald McDonald House located in the medical center. My son has been in the Texas Children's ICU unit numerous times and both me and the wife have utilized the RMH during those times.

    I think that celebrity and large corporations that tie themselves to charity in this way have similar "donation" patterns. I remember reading an article that focus on the celebrity run charities and how those celebrities actually only contribute small amounts to the charities that bare their names. So I don't think this problem is limited to McDonald's.

    There's a reverse side though that you mention but dismiss and I think that's the wrong point of view. The RMH does benefit from the McDonald's attachment in a big way in the form of advertisement. By being attached to McDonald's people see the connection and can make donations (even if it's just the change portion into the little boxes on the drive thrus). While I agree McD's benefits from the connection more than RMH, I'd argue that he RMH still definitely benefits from the connection a decent amount.

    1. The very least McDonald's can do is bring up their contributions to match the industry average. Ideally McDonald's should be setting the example. And I'm sure McDonald's is not the only example of this, and might not even be the most egregious example.

      Celebrity foundations are a completely different animal. I would not expect, for example, Boomer Esiason to fund the majority of his eponymous foundation. In the case of celebrity foundations, lending their name, image, reputation, and legacy are the biggest contributions they can make.

      I have no problem with McDonald's accepting donations for RMH. I do have a problem with them taking credit for what is in fact a donation from its customers that they are merely forwarding as a third party.

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