In a report, “Clowning Around with Charity: How McDonald’s Exploits Philanthropy and Targets Children,” Michele Simon, a public health lawyer charges that McDonald’s is a minor financial supporter of its own Ronald McDonald House Charities, and should immediately stop linking longtime spokes-character Ronald McDonald with it.
The 30-page report is funded by Corporate Accountability International and The Small Planet Fund, and claims McDonald’s is exploiting the charity to benefit McDonald’s image because the corporation contributes very little to the charity.
While McDonald’s reaps 100% of the “branded benefit” from the charity, it contributes only about 20% of the money, the report charges.
“McDonald’s giving does not match its rhetoric,” says Simon, who adds that McDonald’s contributes between $5.3 and $10 million to its namesake, global charity, according to publicly available data that the advocacy group reviewed.
The report admits the charity is “vitally important” and does not criticize what the charity actually does — which provides housing for parents of children who are hospitalized with serious illnesses.
The report claims globally, Ronald McDonald House Charities gets less than one-quarter of its revenue from McDonald’s, and at the local level, the regional chapters and local Ronald McDonald Houses often get as little as one-tenth of their revenue from McDonald’s.
Even McDonald’s customers, the report charges, contribute as much as 1.5 times more to the charity than does McDonald’s itself.
“Most people think that McDonald’s funds Ronald McDonald House Charities 100%,” says Simon. “This is a disconnect between what most people think and reality.”
On its website, The Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House, which is one of the nation’s largest with 75 rooms, notes, “although our House shares a brand name with McDonald’s Corporation, less than 10% of our annual $2 million budget comes as a result of financial contributions from the company’s local owner/operators.”
Sheila Musolino, chief operating officer of the charity, says they wouldn’t exist without help from McDonald’s. “Ronald McDonald House Charities helps approximately 12,000 families every single night around the world. This would not be possible without McDonald’s.”
This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has come under fire from the watchdog group Corporate Accountability International.
The group, whose membership consists of activists, health professionals, and concerned parents, previously staged protests at nearly two dozen McDonald’s restaurants and colleges across the country, prompting the citizenry to sign Ronald McDonald retirement cards.
Corporate Accountability International insists Ronald McDonald and his employer are responsible for the health epidemic of obesity and diet-related disease plaguing America’s children.
McDonald’s Corporation sends Ronald to schools as a “health ambassador” to build brand trust among parents by alleviating their concerns about McDonald’s products.
Ronald’s mission is part of a shrewdly orchestrated strategy to bypass what McDonald’s marketers called the “Gatekeepers”, the parents of their true target.
James McNeal, a child marketing expert, and author of “Kids As Customers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children,” says that in the past 30 years, the percentage of obese children has tripled in children ages 2 to 5, and quadrupled in children ages 6 to 11.
McNeal says the rates of diet-related disease have risen commensurate with the growth of the entire fast food empire.
In fact, McDonald’s pioneered the science of marketing directly to children. In 1963, Ronald McDonald, originally played by actor Willard Scott, was created to instill brand loyalty in young children.