Some Corporate-Nonprofit Sponsorships Yield Hypocrisy Charges

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Photo by Matteson Norman via Flickr

July 30, 2012; Source: AlterNet           

AlterNet’s Alyssa Figueroa lists what she considers “the top 5 most hypocritical corporate sponsors” of nonprofits. Her list excludes past candidates for the award, such as the partnership of Kentucky Fried Chicken (not the healthiest of food choices) with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Her “most dangerously iconic corporate sponsorships…[that] are especially hypocritical (and really piss [her] off)” are:

  1. Walmart’s sponsorship of the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life fundraising event: Figueroa whacks Walmart for destroying habitats, producing millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide, undermining good diets, and offering its employees health care plans they can’t afford.
  2. Wells Fargo’s link to Habitat for Humanity: She identifies Wells as the nation’s largest mortgage servicer and, therefore, a poster child of responsibility for the millions of Americans whose homes were foreclosed from under them. She notes that Wells is guilty of practices such as robo-signing and racial discrimination in the subprime mortgage debacle.
  3. McDonalds and Coca-Cola’s London Olympics sponsorship: She suggests that unhealthy food and beverage corporations like these corrupt the Olympics’ goal of encouraging physical activity, though London’s over-the-top conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, condemned criticism as simply “classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food…not that I eat a lot of it myself…”
  4. United HealthGroup and WellPoint’s sponsoring the American Red Cross: Figueroa suggests that there is a contradiction between “the two largest health corporations…more concerned about profit than the wellbeing of their patients” and “an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance to those in need,” particularly given the health insurers’ lobbying for loopholes to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
  5. ConAgra Foods’ link with Feeding America: Feeding America is a network of more than 200 food banks, which Figueroa says are needed because people can’t afford to buy food, including workers in starting jobs at ConAgra who, she writes, earn incomes as low as $18,000 a year. ConAgra, she argues, “doesn’t care if the food it serves is healthy” and has been charged with salmonella in its facilities and products and lobbying to keep French fries and pizza on school lunch menus.

Figueroa and other corporate critics could have a field day with many other corporate marketing efforts like these, and she could logically extend her critique to nonprofits that accept charitable donations from these and other corporations. But isn’t this partly the way of the nonprofit sector—being increasingly desperate for charitable capital and forced to turn to the corporate sector for partnerships and sponsorships? Is Figueroa really critiquing these corporate sponsorships with nonprofits or suggesting that the whole notion is more than a little morally corrupting? On the other hand, the nonprofits involved are hardly naïve newcomers to the party. In the cases of Habitat or the American Cancer Society, particularly, these aren’t nonprofit ingénues. Does the nonprofit tax status always elevate organizations to a level of moral function above corporations, or does the profit motive make any and all corporations morally inferior when compared to their potential nonprofit partners?—Rick Cohen

  • Liz

    I think purity is a difficult thing for anyone, whether they are a person or a corporation. We all make choices as we move through this world, and the attempt to be consistent in those choices is the root of what we as a society consider “morality.”

    However, relentless consistency is very difficult to maintain and therefore, at various points in our lives, we are all guilty of inconsistencies and could likely be called out for hypocrisy — just like the avid vegan diet advocate who is wearing a leather belt or leather shoes, or as Figueroa points out, the soft drink company that sponsors the fitness charity. Sure, the most glaring of these is worthy of ridicule.

    But we need to be careful about being too exacting in our search for purity, either in corporations or people. Corporations in particular. Because one must never forget that corporations do have one purpose and one purpose only: to provide profits for the shareholders. Sure, it’s horrible to be stung by a scorpion. But really, that is what scorpions do, so we really should not be surprised when it happens. And so inviting the scorpion into your bed is probably a bad idea.

    That said, non-profits are strapped for cash, and if corporations are willing to give cash to non-profits, saying no is sometimes difficult. But as non profit execs we need to not get so focused on the purity of our donors to the point where we make ourselves the victims of our own high moral standards. Okay, if I’m an anti-animal-cruelty organization I’m not taking funds from the local furrier. But insisting that the Olympics needs to refuse money from Coca Cola is a little far-fetched. That kind of OCD-like need for absolute consistency is why we often say that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” That kind of narrowness of mind will very quickly lead to non-profits being isolated from donors as a whole.

    Because seriously, is any of us REALLY that pure?

  • DebraP

    While there are many corporate sponsors we steer clear of (such as the tobacco industry who has traditionally specifically targeted our community), I think it is incumbent upon the community to realize that, unless said community is willing to fully support (meaning financially) many of the nonprofits accepting corporate sponsor dollars, they will be forced to continue doing so. I recognize that there are many things that an organization can and should do to increase contributions-I also recognize that it is not so black and white as “down with the evil corporate dollar.”

  • Marce Valdez

    Corporate sponsorship to nonprofits nowadays has increased due to, in some instances, companies’ need to give back to their communities. Although these corporate donations are important and most of the times much needed resources for nonprofits, one shouldn’t overlook the fact that these monies are only a small portion of the bigger pie from where nonprofits get their financial support. Being individual giving the largest and most important contribution of funds for local and international nonprofits. Therefore in my opinion, if a nonprofit if struggling to keep up with its operation costs why not accepting donations from corporate neighbors regardless of what their ultimate goal is- to make money. At the end of the day corporate donations are only small means to an end.