October 2013; Eat Drink Politics


Does McDonald’s care deeply about the health of children? If one were to look at what it purveys, maybe the conclusion would be, “not so much,” but what about its much-bandied-about commitment to Ronald McDonald House?

A recent report by Michelle Simon, entitled “Clowning Around with Charity,” looks at the charity of McDonald’s and has concluded that it is not very generous at all. Its charity “brand,” Ronald McDonald House Charities, benefits only minimally from the corporation’s largesse while it adds to the organization’s “goodwill quotient.” Further, it finds that these charity efforts serve to soften the image of the corporation as it aggressively markets its products to children. Simon writes, “With McDonald’s facing heightened scrutiny while being increasingly on the defensive over its role in harming child health, the corporation’s charitable activities deserve special examination.”

The report finds that McDonalds:

  • Promotes the McDonald’s brand unremittingly through Ronald McDonald House Charities, despite contributing only a fraction of the charity’s revenue
  • Takes undue credit for the generosity of its customers; e.g., McDonald’s often claims the “donation box” contributions to Ronald McDonald Houses as its own
  • Sells unhealthy children’s menu items by linking their sale to very modest charitable giving
  • Markets and profits from children in schools under the guise of charity and education

On the specific topic of the Ronald MacDonald Houses, “based on available information, in 2012, on average, McDonald’s donated about one-fifth of the revenues of Ronald McDonald House Charities, the corporation’s ‘charity of choice’—yet McDonald’s enjoys 100 percent of the branded benefit of this charity.” And the picture is even worse at the local level, as the individual Ronald McDonald Houses report receiving only about 10 percent of their revenue from McDonald’s, including the money donated by customers. This leaves the local Ronald McDonald Houses at a disadvantage; many assume that McDonald’s provides 100 percent of the operating budget, leading many individual Houses to publish disclaimers on their websites asking for funds.

The report reveals that the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile “Tooth Truck” (a project of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ozarks) receives half its budget from Medicaid, with the other half coming from donations.

It also looks at McDonald’s level of giving in relationship to its revenue, as compared to “corporations of similar size. Annual surveys of corporations such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Yum! Brands (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC) conducted by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy showed that these corporations gave 0.12 percent of their revenue to charity through cash and in-kind donations. McDonald’s, in contrast, typically gives 0.08 percent, or 33 percent below the survey’s six-year average.”—Ruth McCambridge