Chick-fil-A swears the changes to its donation policy have absolutely nothing to do with Popeyes [Updated]

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Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe (Getty Images)

Update, November 20, 2019: After Chick-fil-A announced changes to its charitable giving program, i.e. that it would stop giving money to organizations that had taken explicit stances against LGBTQ rights, many critics suspected the chain’s motives were not completely pure. After all, Chick-fil-A had come out the resounding loser in this year’s chicken sandwich war against Popeyes.


But Chick-fil-A swears that this is not the case at all, and it would like people to stop thinking it is. Business Insider has confirmed—with documentation!—that Chick-fil-A had been planning the changes in its giving policy long before Popeyes launched its chicken sandwich nationwide in August. It noted that neither the Salvation Army nor the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the two questionable organizations, appear on the Chick-fil-A Foundation’s list of 2019 donations (though this won’t be confirmed for sure until the foundation files its 2019 tax returns), which seems to indicate that the change has been in the works for a while.


Instead, it seems that Chick-fil-A executives were more swayed by the negative reception the company has received during its efforts to expand into airports and college campuses and into more urban areas, including a protest that involved a Zamboni machine at a hockey game. Protests also thwarted the chain’s efforts to establish itself in the U.K. Chick-fil-A sees itself as “a restaurant company that’s focused on influence, really great food, really great service,” in the words of its vice-president of external communications. Executives felt that this was being overshadowed by its reputation for supporting homophobia. Rodney Bullard, the head of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, told Business Insider that the company wanted to focus on non-religious youth programs that 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.”

Now can’t we all just sit down and eat chicken together (except on Sunday)?

Original story, November 19, 2019: Yesterday, Chick-fil-A announced a “more focused giving approach” to its charitable contributions. Notably, that meant an end to its donations to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, both of which had come under fire in the past for their positions on gay marriage and LGBTQ people in general. But will the move be enough for Chick-fil-A’s critics?


The fast food chain has increasingly become a cultural lightning rod, as campuses and airports have moved to ban the chain from setting up shop in their locales. Others, of course, have rallied around the company. And then, presumably, there are the customers who eat there simply because they like the chicken.

The question is whether Chick-fil-A’s decision to drop the controversial charities from its donation program will quiet the uproar. (Chick-fil-A’s donations to the two organizations in question were sizable; it gave $1.65 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and $115,000 to the Salvation Army in 2018 alone.) The Chick-fil-A Foundation’s announcement now pledges $9 million in donations for 2020 to both faith-based and non-religious organizations, most focused on ending hunger and homelessness.


There are arguments to be made on all sides. Chick-fil-A must be hoping this shift quells criticism that its company is hostile to LGBTQ rights, and, in a sense, it can demonstrate that its move is a concession to those critics. But others will say that as long as CEO Dan Cathy—who has in the past stated his opposition to gay marriage—continues to profit from the company, they won’t eat at his restaurants. And still there are others who argue there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, and that accepting Chick-fil-A’s concession to critics only distracts from larger questions of how fast food workers and LGBTQ Americans are treated by corporations.

Only time will tell whether Chick-fil-A can put controversy in the rearview or whether the company will remain synonymous with its past stances. One outcome is likely, though: Ceasing donations to the FCA and Salvation Army will likely make it easier for institutions and businesses like colleges, airports, malls, etc. to justify having Chick-fil-A on their grounds. Consumers, however, may have a longer memory.