Chick-fil-A’s decision to stop funding socially conservative charities is rocking the culture wars. As a branding move, it could put Chick-fil-A in the top three of fast-food chains…or destroy its support among conservative Christians.
We won’t know the answer for months or years. But opinions are already being formed.
"Giving in to the social justice bullies hurts Chick-fil-A," said David Almasi, VP of the National Center for Public Policy Research. It has "lost the confidence" of loyal customers and "will never gain a foothold among" its critics, he added.
Witeck Communications president and LGBT communications strategist Bob Witeck disagreed. He said the decision was "smart on the part of Chick-fil-A if they want to continue growing. America’s demographics and attitudes are changing, and Chick-fil-A’s future growth is in the suburbs, where they have been heavily opposed."
The new controversy comes after Chick-fil-A discontinued donations to The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The money helped the homeless and troubled youths, but both groups have traditional views on marriage. This is seen by many as bigoted, even though The Salvation Army provides specific services to people who identify as LGBT.
Chick-fil-A’s donations have led to boycotts and drawn government ire. Mayors in Chicago and Boston tried to block franchises in 2012, and they weren’t alone. After San Antonio joined in, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill protecting businesses from this government pressure.
Chick-fil-A says it is not abandoning socially conservative organizations; it’s merely changing its focus in 2020 after multi-year Fellowship and Salvation Army donations ended. In an email statement, the company said it "will introduce…more focused giving" and give to groups which work "exclusively in the areas of hunger, homelessness, and education."
"Our goal is to donate to the most effective organizations," Chick-fil-A President Tim Tassopoulos explained in a statement. "No organization will be excluded from future consideration — faith-based or non-faith-based."
Chick-fil-A has fought the perception of bigotry for years. In 2012, it ended political donations. Some of its local franchises are run by socially liberal owners, and one franchise opened on a Sunday to serve food the day after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. And in 2016, the company was ranked as the nation’s most polite fast-food chain.
Reactions have been mixed among Chick-fil-A observers. Some people stated on social media that they would now buy from Chick-fil-A. However, Washington Blade Chief Political & White House Reporter Chris Johnson said he doesn’t see LGBT Americans’ perspectives changing.
According to Johnson, the perception that Chick-fil-A is an anti-LGBTQ is settled; "Chick-fil-A has announced before it wouldn’t donate to anti-LGBTQ groups. If the perception didn’t change then, I don’t see why it will now." Witeck, however, thinks "LGBT Americans (and others) likely are now in a 'wait and see' mode."
American Principle Project Director of Policy and Government Affairs Jon Schweppe said Chick-fil-A has damaged its brand for no gain. "The activists who urged them to abandon The Salvation Army won’t be satisfied. Nothing Chick-fil-A does will be enough," he told me. "Meanwhile, Christians and conservatives who flocked to Chick-fil-A…feel betrayed."
We won’t know the reality for some time, but I think Schweppe is right. Openly liberal cultures at Starbucks, Twitter, and Facebook haven’t protected them from liberal boycotts. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A just alienated a significant portion of its customer base.
The market will decide.
Dustin Siggins is the founder of Proven Media Solutions.