This is part 3 of The Brand Series, articles that put a finger on the pulse of four major industries, asking the question: how does this brand engage employees in their CSR/philanthropy? 

Read part 1The Brand Series: How Retailers Engage Employees in CSR
Read part 2The Brand Series: Shopping for Socially Responsible Fashion

fast food blog

By Angela Parker

Fast Food & CSR

The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship has identified 5 Stages of Corporate Citizenship: Elementary, Engaged, Innovative, Integrated, and Transforming. We’ve all heard of the companies at the latter stages: Patagonia, Whole Foods, IBM, Target, and so on. SC Johnson requires their suppliers to publish the ingredients they use. And if the suppliers refuse? They’re no longer suppliers.

But what about the companies in the earlier stages of corporate citizenship? Who are they? Are they interested in CSR? If so, why aren’t we aware of what they’re doing? Let’s zero in on one industry that we in the CSR field rarely hear anything about: fast food.

These 3 well-known names in fast food just might surprise you with what’s going on behind the scenes.

1. Taco Bell

For most franchised operations, it is up to local managers to organize their store’s giving or volunteering efforts. Some chains, like Starbucks, offer their employees a toolkit (fliers, sign-up sheets, posters, etc.) to aid in these efforts, but rarely do they offer financial support. It is unlikely that a local franchise’s volunteering efforts will show up in the news unless the brand is aligned at the corporate level with a signature cause and put some serious cash behind it. All that to say, Taco Bell employees are giving and volunteering at stores across the country,  but until recently I hadn’t heard anything about it …

The Hunger to Hope Challenge

In October 2012, Taco Bell’s parent company, YUM! Brands, announced the Hunger to Hope Challenge. The challenge encourages employees to make an impact on local hunger issues by developing teams and identifying nonprofit partners to work with. In 2013, all participating teams will be evaluated by a panel of judges and the teams who made the biggest impacts will receive grants, as much as $20,000 each, for their partner agencies. The challenge is designed to be a year-round, ongoing effort.

This program has the potential see great impact, not just for YUM! Brands, but for their employees and local communities. It all depends on how well the program is structured to engage employees longterm. Watch for news about Hunger to Hope and your local Taco Bell in the coming year; the CSR landscape for fast food is about to get a little more interesting.

2. Dairy Queen

Similar to Taco Bell, there’s probably a lot more going on at individual stores than we ever hear about. But at the corporate level, Dairy Queen focuses in on 3 intiaitives:

  • Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals: Since 1984, DQ operators throughout the United States and Canada have raised more than $91 million for CMN hospitals by collecting change, selling balloons, and special fundraising days like Miracle Treat Day.
  • DQ Cares Product Grant Program: This is Dairy Queen’s corporate giving program. Every year, they’ll accept applications from nonprofits in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area and then provide Dilly Bars throughout the year for kids and families associated with that nonprofit.
  • Local Community Partnerships: Dairy Queen makes an effort to support the initiatives of local operators by listing a few of them on their website and providing social networks where individual stories can be shared.

These are all great programs, but the impact is unclear. What does it mean that $91 million was given? How did those hospitals apply the money? Were kids’ lives changed? How? The same questions apply to the Product Grant Program. I know a Dilly Bar always lifts my spirits, but is that the purpose of providing them for kids and families? Tell me how what you’re doing is changing the world, because just doing something isn’t enough anymore.

3. Chipotle

Chipotle is in a separate category than Taco Bell or Dairy Queen. By avoiding foods that are viewed as less healthy and making themselves known for sustainable sourcing, they’ve managed to sidestep many of the reputation issues that the fast food industry typically faces. Chipotle has done an excellent job of telling their story of local and sustainable food; as such, they’ve become a beacon for the CSR community (see The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation).

As such an innovative company, they must have some incredible community impact stories to share … right?

Unfortunately, Chipotle has only ventured far enough into community involvement to offer money to K-12 schools, youth community groups, community gardens, or food and sustainable agriculture groups – and that’s only if these groups apply for a grant and are accepted (your org can submit an application here). As far as workplace giving, employee volunteering, and/or engaging employees in their CSR strategy in any way, Chipotle falls short. With such an incredible platform from which to launch, I’m counting on Chipotle to impress us soon.

Because I don’t want to come down too hard on this company whose food I love, let me share with you their brilliant video featuring a Willie Nelson rendition of Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” It takes us on a farmer’s journey from pastoral family farm through increasingly industrialized and mechanized processes, and “back to the start.” I cannot compliment Chipotle strongly enough on their storytelling ability.

To read more about our perspective on this topic:

If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program please feel free to drop us a line at, comment below, reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter, or call us at 855-926-4678.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
Follow Angela on Twitter
Connect with Angela on LinkedIn


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