Q: How Much Money Does McDonald’s Give to Ronald McDonald Houses? A: Not Much


If you’re ever driven past or needed one of the 322 Ronald McDonald Houses I’m assuming like me your heart warmed at the iconic clown who provides “a loving home away from home to families needing to be near their seriously ill or injured children while they’re being treated at metropolitan area hospitals.” Based on promotional materials like their own website Ronald McDonald House creates massive goodwill by branding themselves as the corporation who cares for children and their families.

Let’s talk about the value of goodwill. In 2012 Mc Donald’s reported its goodwill at $2.8 billion (up from $2.7 billion in 2011) [McDonald’s 2012 Annual Report, page 30]. It would be foolish for us to to shun cause marketing but we still need to look at it with a critical eye. Quite a bit of that goodwill stems from the easily identifiable Ronald McDonald character and the tacit association between Ronald McDonald and healing families is absurd on a good day and offensive on a bad one.

If McDonald’s was actually funding these Ronald McDonald Houses I think I’d be able to turn a blind eye. The fact is that they are donating miniscule amounts to the operating budgets of these very important facilities while reaping untold advertising benefits.

Fact: Ronald McDonald Houses operate at the local level where they have their own non profit status and have licensing agreements with McDonalds’s for the use of the Ronald McDonald brand. Ken Barun statesWe have sort of franchised the charity business.

Fact: The Tallahassee Ronald McDonald House told Corporate Accountability International that about 10 percent of their operating budget come from McDonald’s through local fundraisers and donation boxes.

Fact: The Dallas RMHC chapter says that only 5% of it’s budget come from both MdDonald’s and RMHC global in 2012.

Question: When 90-95% of your funds come from the community you serve why not rebrand as a Community Home?  

RMHC says they don't get money

Fact: McDonald’s places RMHC Donation Boxes in some of it’s outlets and makes a big deal of this in much of it’s communication about RMHC. The corporation calls it “our system’s largest ongoing fundraisers,” and boasts that in 2012 more than $50 million was collected worldwide.

Fact: In 2012 McDonald’s customers gave 1.5 times more to the RMHC than the corporation itself donated in 2011.

Fact: McDonald’s spent at least $18 million on a campaign that would donate one penny of every Happy Meal to the RMHC Foundation. McDonald’s estimated that it might raise $6.4 million. 

Question: Does this violate the Pledge McDonald’s took to not market junk food to kids?

RMHC gets funding

Fact: There is a “Tooth Truck” in the Ozarks that bears the Ronald McDonald image. The annual operating budget of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is $600,000 half of which is funded through Missouri Medicaid and the other half comes from community donations.

Question: Did the State of Missouri just fund McDonald’s advertising with $300,000?

Fact: Schools are rewarded with visits from Ronald McDonald when they collect pop tabs (pull tabs from soda cans). A boy in Sacramento, CA led his classmates in collecting 179 pounds of pop tabs (think about how much soda that is) and generated $12.57 for the Ronald McDonald House of Sacramento.

Question: How can anyone take this seriously?

ronald mcdonald loves soda

Fact: In 2012 the average McDonald’s worker made $8.25 an hour. The CEO was rewarded with an $8.75 million salary not including a 3-year bonus.

Fact: A report from the National Employment Law Project found that McDonald’s topped the list of fast food corporations whose workers rely on government assistance programs to make up for low wages. Forbes reported that McDonald’s cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annual in public assistance programs for their low-paid workers.

Question: Maybe the Tooth Truck is a $300,000 red herring? Oh nevermind. It all matters.

Many organizations no longer accept charitable donations from tobacco corporations and it’s my sincerest hope that the same will soon be said for food corporations with a similarly profound negative impact on public health. I suspect that in 5 or 10 years we’ll look back on Ronald McDonald with the same disbelief as Joe Camel.

You can read the full report at StopCorporateAbuse.org.

All photos are courtesy of Corporate Accountability International. 


Your Cause Marketing Made Me Hate Poor People


The four of us are in a taxi cab in San Francisco when the cabbie starts telling us about his smart granddaughter. She is seven and doesn’t like to eat breakfast. When he told her that children in Africa didn’t have any food she said, “So.”

Just like that, she said, “so?” and nothing else. Because starving children in Africa mean nothing to a seven year old girl living multigenerationally in San Francisco.

Last night I posted a quick video where I opened up a new ASUS Lamborghini computer. Within seconds a comment appeared on YouTube:

meanwhile in Africa….

I’m going to take a note from the seven year old. SO?

I’m going to go ahead and blame cause marketing for all this nonsense, this ridiculous middle class guilt that prevents us from enjoying anything nice if it isn’t tied to a charity. Sometimes you just want something wonderful, and sometimes you work your ass off to afford something wonderful and there’s no reason to not enjoy it.

Charity matters. Giving of onesself is something that makes us better people. Biblically and traditionally the most cherished gifts, the ones seen as being the most pious are anonymous. When you donate two cents on every hundred dollars and then take out seventy three ads to tell me that you’re fighting breast cancer I don’t call that giving. I call that taking.

Understand that it’s not just Africa fatigue over here, I’m also sick to death of the pink ribbons that the Komen foundation slaps on everything. Stop fighting breast cancer with known carcinogens and start giving money to cancer prevention. For fuck’s sake am I the only one with a brain around here?

Last week a celebrity put out a press release that in lieu of gifts for his one year old daughter’s birthday guests were asked to make donations to a charity. One year old’s don’t care about gifts, but they LOVE boxes. Parents of one year old’s often need gifts because they’re young families surviving on more love than money. So good for you mister celebrity that doesn’t need an extra pack of diapers, this is the moment when you invite friends and family over and say “no gifts please”. It’s not necessary for folks to give you something every time they walk over your threshold, and it’s tacky as hell to tell folks what they have to do with their money.

But it only gets worse, because at some point one of your neighborhood kids will not show proper gratitude when his parents give him a gift and the parents will have a sixth birthday party with a charity theme. Really. These horrible people will insist that their little giver has everything he needs and that everyone should just show up with a donation to save the planet. This is uncomfortable, everyone knows that the kid wants gifts, but you’ve got to buy the dumb charity card that’s probably going to just support a fun run or some swank offices in DC so that little Johnny’s Volvo driving mommy can show Los Angeles how full of gratitude her son is.

I don’t want to be asked at the grocery checkout if I’d like to donate to anyone. I really resent the big grocery chains asking for my money so that they can say they’ve given a hundred bazillion dollars to charity and given back to the community. If they want to give back to the community they’ll make sure the folks in my neighborhood have health insurance.

I love that bloggers are working with nonprofits to highlight the plight of those less fortunate. I like that they’re not asking us to do anything, just to listen and to be aware. I have some serious cause marketing fatigue.

#UnRefreshing How Pepsi’s Cause Marketing Annoys Me


When Pepsi made the very public decision to skip Superbowl Advertising in favor of Social Media, a lot of folks felt like Social Media would be legitimized. Since the Refresh campaign would live mostly online, it could prove to everyone, for once and for all, that Social Media is better investment than Mainstream Media.

I’m sure at a corporate level, the Pepsi Refresh project is a smashing success. At a social level, I find it unpleasant.

Pepsi launched their Refresh campaign during SXSW (South by Southwest), and my friend Mark was the recipient of the first grant they offered. I was happy to campaign for him. I spammed twitter for two days straight, and, even though I don’t feel good about it, I did it. Mark was able to secure $50,000 so that he could continue his work at Invisible People. Since I’ve seen firsthand the impact of the videos, it was easy for me to feel passionate, and to spread the message. What was not easy for me, was to involuntarily be promoting Pepsi.

I don’t like Pepsi. I don’t make it a habit to drink soda, but if you’ve ever eaten a hamburger with me, you’d know that I do order a Diet Coke to go with it. I also take a weekly run to a taco truck and sometimes drink a Coca Cola. Does that mean that I’m primed to promote Coca Cola? No. This is my vice, not my passion. Pepsi and Coke contribute to obesity, pollution, and bone loss. I could go on and on, about useless plastic bottles, and the many ways that Pepsi makes itself a bad global citizen, but I won’t.

I’ll just ask you, my readers, to be a bit more thoughtful. How much of our lives are we willing to give to gross polluters? Is social media for sale? At what price?

The problem is that saying you don’t like these contests is going to hurt someone’s feelings, and it won’t be Pepsi. When I click over to the Refresh Everything page I see this:

An exercise class to fund raise for Lupus Research is a wonderful idea. Who wouldn’t want to exercise? Who doesn’t want to see Lupus end? I’ll be Esther Nuevas is a fantastic lady, and I’ll also bet that most conversations she’s having today include Pepsi.

All for $5,000.

Pepsi has used such incredibly manipulative marketing practices (I’m not willing to pretend that this is charity), that if I tell you how totally unrefreshing I find this, I’m the enemy. Obviously I want people to have lupus, right? Wrong.


Currently children are creating campaigns so that they can get gym equipment into their high schools. I want kids to have weight rooms. I want kids to have a great PE curricula, but I don’t want Pepsi in our schools, and you shouldn’t either. A quick search at Pepsi’s site shows that they have wiggled their way into at least 1,121 schools. Let’s just pretend that it’s only 200 kids at every school, that means that at an uber conservative minimum Pepsi has successfully branded itself to 224,200 highly impressionable teens. Nothing about this is okay.

Our children will be the first generation ever to have shorter lifespans than their parents.

Our children will die young from the food they are putting in their bodies.

Michael Hoffman, the CEO of See 3 Communications had a lot to say about cause marketing. The folks at See 3 work exclusively with nonprofits, foundations, associations, and social causes. Michael lives and breathes this stuff.  I asked him what he would say to someone before they entered one of these grant contests (Chase had one recently and I’m pretty sure we’ll see a lot more of them).

He said:

I was just with someone from Invisible Children that won the Chase $1 million. They spent 5 years building a grassroots network through offline events – film screenings, tours, lobby days. It was this network that won the $1 million, not some online magic. Maybe there were 5 orgs, from the 100 finalists in that contest that had anything close to that kind of network. The others COULDN’T win. So what I would say is… You have to access your ability to mobilize people for these contests and if you don’t have a large and dedicated existing network you are probably wasting your time.

Sometimes, this kind of contest can get orgs that have done little online to begin building their networks. America’s Giving Challenge, from the Case Foundation, included a lot of education about social media with their contest (some of which we helped develop), and so many orgs became adept at using the web, even if they didn’t win the money at that time.

I wonder, how can we create something that brings incentives for organizations to work together, rather than competition with each other.

Locally The Roxy, The Viper Room and the Comedy Store have worked together to grow all their businesses. Can you imagine if charities worked this well together?

Michael adds:

Overall, I think corporate brands are realizing that no one really cares about their checking account or their brown sugar water. These products lack meaning. They are commodities. And so in many ways the brands need our causes more than our causes need the brands. They need to infuse their commodity products with meaning. They need to give me some reason to care.

At what point are we saturated with these events, and the vacuous corporate greed begins to impact our causes? This isn’t just about contests, it is about cause marketing. For example, Susan B. Komen sold out to KFC in a cynical move to brand cancer-causing food as something that will help in the fight against breast cancer. Komen’s brand now means more about greed than cancer.

Pepsi has another agenda, which is they don’t want us to really think about what we have been pouring into our kids and how it impacts their health. If they sponsor healthy things, a weight room, for example, then they can associate their product with healthy living and they can bribe schools to keep their soda machines and not join the fight against childhood obesity by going after the sugar-water peddlers.

We’ve asked for authenticity within social media. We’ve prized it, we’ve rewarded it. What do we ask of our charities?

It was wonderful and novel when the first few charities secured money, but it’s tiresome now, and everyone wants money for something.

Can I ask, at a bare minimum, that each and every one of you work to keep Pepsi from branding our school children?