Chick-fil-A may have gained notoriety and a temporary profit boost from its controversial CEO comments and donations to anti-gay marriage groups, but dont expect similar corporate activism from Charlotte-based retailers.
A survey of retail companies based in the area shows foundations created by Belk, Lowes, Harris Teeter, Family Dollar, Snyders-Lance and Cato have a history of supporting causes that are both popular and noncontroversial.
This includes several scholarship programs, and help for charities that support at-risk kids, the arts, health care for uninsured people, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and youth sports.
Examples of recent gifts include Bojangles $188,890 donation to the Charlotte chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Snyders-Lance providing $250,000 to help the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation provide health care to low-income children on Charlottes westside.
If any local donations were to be considered controversial, it would be those given to the Boy Scouts, which recently reaffirmed its policy against gay membership.
When that controversy first erupted in 2000, United Ways board in Charlotte took a vote on whether to continue supporting the Scouts with donor money.
The result was unanimously in favor of the Scouts. But the following year, United Way made changes to allow donors to opt out of giving to groups with whom they have philosophical differences.
United Way officials were asked to comment on the Chick-fil-A controversy but declined, claiming it was too sensitive even to talk in generic terms.
Foundation for the Carolinas also declined to discuss the matter. But as an aside, an organization official noted a well-designed corporate philanthropic program can get customers excited, enhance the brand, and make employees feel proud and enthusiastic.
Among the locally based retailers who have been advised by the foundation on charity initiatives are Cato and Family Dollar.
But it should be noted that giving of this sort isnt necessarily the same thing as corporate activism (and a) CEOs taking a stand on controversial issues, wrote a spokesperson for the foundation in an email.
In the case of Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, the chain has long been known as socially conservative, giving to groups fighting same-sex marriage.
Equality Matters, an online investigative organization dedicated to gay and lesbian issues, obtained tax records last year that showed the restaurant chains WinShape Foundation gave nearly $2 million to anti-gay organizations in 2010, among other donations.
By contrast, locally based organizations like Family Dollars Family Hope Foundation seek a more grassroots impact by giving small sums to small causes spread across the 7,000 locations where it has stores.
Cato has a similar effort called Grass Roots, though company officials say education remains its top priority for grant dollars.
Supporting scientific research to cure cancer is great, but its abstract, said Joshua Braverman, a spokesman for Family Dollar. It doesnt affect people as directly as being able to call up Second Harvest Food Bank and give X amount of pounds of food.
Thats tangible, real and immediate for people who need help right now. Its what people need the most.