- Chick-fil-A is facing renewed scrutiny over its charitable donations after tax returns showed that the chain donated $1.6 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and $150,000 to the Salvation Army in 2017.
- Rodney Bullard, the head of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, defended the donations in an interview with Business Insider, saying they were "relevant and impactful in the community."
- "For us, that's a much higher calling than any political or cultural war that's being waged," Bullard said.
- The Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes have been criticized for their historical opposition to same-sex marriage and for reportedly excluding LGBT individuals from leadership positions.
- Bullard noted that Chick-fil-A's donations to the organizations funded specific programs - such as summer camps - that work directly with underprivileged children.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
ATLANTA, Georgia - Chick-fil-A's charitable donations have been subject to scrutiny for years.
In 2012, the chicken chain set off a massive wave of backlash after CEO Dan Cathy said the company supported "the biblical definition of the family unit," calling it "prideful" and "arrogant" for individuals to define marriage. Chick-fil-A had donated millions of dollars to groups that opposed same-sex marriage, including the Family Research Council, which was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010.
Chick-fil-A ceased its donations to all political groups and those organizing against LGBT rights in 2012, and it now makes its charitable donations though the Chick-fil-A Foundation. However, the chicken chain's donations to two major organizations - the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army - continue to draw criticism.
AP Photo/David Tulis
AP Photo/David Tulis
Tax returns show that in 2017 Chick-fil-A donated $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and $150,000 to the Salvation Army: two organizations that ThinkProgress and other publications have classified as anti-LGBT, due in part to their historical opposition to same-sex marriage. The company also donated $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential home that teaches that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."
Chick-fil-A stopped its donations to the Paul Anderson Youth Home prior to ThinkProgress' report in March, saying that the organization was unaware of these policies and ended donations when they were brought to light. However, the company has defended its donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.
Last week, Business Insider sat down with Rodney Bullard in Chick-fil-A's Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters to discuss the chain's approach to charitable giving. Bullard is the vice president of corporate social responsibility at Chick-fil-A as well as the executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation.
In total, Chick-fil-A donated $9.9 million in 2017, the last year from which tax returns are available. Today, Bullard says, the Chick-fil-A Foundation works with more than 300 partners, primarily focusing on lower-income and underserved youth.
"The calling for us is to ensure that we are relevant and impactful in the community, and that we're helping children and that we're helping them to be everything that they can be," Bullard said.
"For us, that's a much higher calling than any political or cultural war that's being waged," he continued. "This is really about an authentic problem that is on the ground, that is present and ever present in the lives of many children who can't help themselves."
How the donations break down
Bullard said that he believes reporting on the Chick-fil-A Foundation's donations has failed to dig into what the funds have gone towards.
Chick-fil-A's perspective on its charitable donations is that they go towards specific programs that help all children, not any specific religious group. Under Bullard, Chick-fil-A has focused on low-income youth and economic inequality, with Bullard citing a statistic that a child born into poverty in Atlanta has just a 4% chance of achieving self-sufficient wealth.
"Regardless of where you may find yourself on any particular issue, this is our collective problem and that we all can be a part of the solution. ... We all should join together and be a part of the solution," Bullard said.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been criticized for its "purity pledge" - a vow to avoid "heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act" that leaders in the organization are required to sign. The organization's statement of faith reads, in part: "We believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman."
Chick-fil-A's Fellowship of Christian Athletes donations go towards summer sports camps that the Chick-fil-A Foundation has hosted for years in partnership with the organization. The mission of the camps is to introduce inner-city Atlanta youth to new sports, such as golf, tennis, and archery.
"These kids are important to us," Bullard said. "We develop relationships with them over the years to where there is a crisis, they actually come to people, in part to people in our staff."
Chick-fil-A also emphasizes that kids who attend the camp are not forced to sign the purity pledge
"The intent is not to try to have kids conduct their lives according to the FCA code. The intent is to expose them to all of the gateway to college exposure in sports as role models, all of that," Carrie Kurlander, Chick-fil-A's vice president of external communications, said to Business Insider. "So, we actually had a conversation two years ago about this very thing and said, 'Alright, we're probably going to get dinged. But the impact is real and authentic.' And so, there was a judgment call."
Bullard added: "No child was thinking anything about a purity clause or anything other than sports exposure in college."
The Chick-fil-A Foundation also has two partnerships with the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army - which is actually an evangelical church - now emphasizes its commitment to serving the LGBT community and that it does not discriminate based on sexual identity in hiring. In the past, however, the organization has reportedly discriminated against employees in same-sex marriages and has been accused of turning transgender individuals away from shelters.
In one partnership, Chick-fil-A works with youth groups associated with the Salvation Army to bring kids to summer sports camps. The foundation also worked with Salvation Army on the Angel Tree Program, which provides children in Atlanta with toys during the holiday season.
"At the end of the day, the impact - that's really what's important for us," Bullard said. "We don't want our intent and our work to be encumbered by someone else's politics or cultural war. If something gets in the way of our mission, that is something that we are mindful of and cognizant of."
Chick-fil-A's donation practices are firmly rooted in the Cathy family's Christian faith. S. Truett Cathy, who passed away in 2014, founded Chick-fil-A; his son Dan Cathy is now CEO.
"The family has not, particularly Truett, did not shy away from his faith," Bullard said. "And his faith was a faith of opportunity and faith of inclusion, actually."
"There's a calling to help people, and I think at times that has been confused with a calling, somehow, to exclude," he added. "And that's not the case. The focus, the phrase 'every child' - we're very intentional about that."
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