Cause Cannibalism: Is Fast Food Gobbling Up Cause Dollars...Maybe Not

(originally posted on Good Scoop - October 31st, 2010)





Recently I was clicking through various cause websites to see who was doing what in the world of cause marketing and paused at one website in particular.  The Ronald McDonald House Charities(“RMHC”) has a request on their main page, “Vote for the RMHC on the American Express Member’s Project and Take Part.”  Why, I thought, is the charitable arm of a giant corporation seeking money from the charitable arm of another equally giant corporation?


In an earlier blog post defending cause marketing, we took the position that what critics need to remember is that there are real causes out there that really need marketing.  We stand by that statement, but now I had to ask why were two giant corporations soliciting funds and giving funds this way?  At first glance I just didn’t add up.


Both endeavors ask the people who are interested to sign up, to get involved, to vote, to donate.  To engage.  Which is about when it all began to make sense.  Ronald McDonald House Charities doesn’t strictly need the $200,000 grant that American Express Member’s Project / Take Part is giving out.  RMHC has recently opened its 300th house in St. Louis Missouri with plans under way for a dozen more as well as 40 Mobile Care Units that function  like rolling health clinics all around the world.  RMHC serves two hundred thousand families a year through the houses alone-not counting the mobile units, the scholarships, the outreach.  RMHC has an operating yearly budget of over $100 million dollars-if I’m reading the tax return right-so they don’t strictly need to win the grant from American Express.


So why are they doing it?  Because they are building their network.  They are increasing their profile, awareness for their cause.  They are building the brand that is their cause.  RMHC has social media components everywhere — facebook and twitter, a great website, good self-promotions and advertising.  They have a fabulous slide show on their website thanking their corporate sponsors who donate goods and services to help create and maintain the 300 RM Houses throughout the world that shows the donations and services in use at the houses around the world.  They are not just thanking their corporate sponsors with a list and a weblink, they are showing exactly what the donations do and how — Benjamin Moore supplies the paints for the buildings, Coca-Cola supplies drinks, ATT for phones and phone servies, Southwest Air for travel services.  You get the idea.


I have to admit when I first started thinking about blogging about two giant corporations and how their cause components intersected I wasn’t thinking positively.  It seemed like another example of a giant corporation leveraging its power to take everything for itself and leave nothing for the little guys.  But the more I looked in to it, the more I thought about it, the more I learned about it, the more my opinion changed.  What these two corporations were trying to do was to get my attention, to focus my attention for just one minute on causes that needed supporting.  They did catch my attention.  I will sign up and vote for Take Part projects.  And when last week I found myself in need of a quick lunch, I found myself at a McDonald’s drive through, tossing my spare change in the RMHC box. From now on, Ronald McDonald can count on that.

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