Donut Chain’s About-Face on Gay Marriage: The Perils of Sponsorship

What was my favourite donut chain doing sponsoring an anti-gay-marriage event?
Or wait, is the question, what was a donut chain doing sponsoring a pro-straight-wedding event?
Or, then again, was the question really, why was a donut chain doing something other than making donuts?

From the CBC: Tim Hortons backs out of anti-gay marriage event

Tim Hortons has reversed its decision to sponsor a Rhode Island rally held by a U.S. group that opposes same-sex marriage, after encountering fierce criticism for the move.

The August 16 event, organized by the National Organization for Marriage, is billed as a “Celebrate Marriage & Family Day.” Held in suburban Providence, the rally is to include speeches, a cookout and a ceremony in which married couples are invited to renew their vows.

The National Organization for Marriage is a non-profit organization “with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it,” according to its website.

According to the company’s press release explaining its decision to bow out of the event,

…Tim Hortons has not sponsored those representing religious groups, political affiliates or lobby groups. It has come to our attention that the Rhode Island event organizer and purpose of the event fall outside of our sponsorship guidelines.

Now, we should distinguish clearly the content of this particular mini-scandal (sponsorship of an anti-gay-rights event) from the shape of it (a company sponsoring an event put on by a charitable organization). On the former, I’ll only say what Tim Horton’s HQ has now realized: it was a dumb move — both because the anti-gay-rights movement doesn’t have an intellectual leg to stand on, and because gay marriage is a clear hot-button issue that any sane company, regardless of its beliefs, should want to stay away from.

Now, on to the larger question of sponsorship. Sponsoring community events is pretty common thing for companies to do — I’m sure a company like Tim’s must get thousands of such requests every year. The standard economic argument is that companies should sponsor events if-and-only-if doing so serves as good advertising, boosts their reputation (rather than, say, drawing criticism), etc. The modern “progressive” view is that companies should donate to charities as a way of “giving back” to the community. But clearly the idea of “giving back” to the community comes with caveats: companies should “give back” by donating to, well, suitable community groups and events. What counts as “suitable?” There might be some obvious cases: a white supremacist group at the clearly-unethical end of the spectrum, and an adult literacy program at the clearly-unobjectionable end. But lots of groups, evens, & causes in between will be controversial (the NRA? PETA? Planned Parenthood?). And at least some of the controversial ones may not be obviously controversial. So, research may be required, and judgment will need to be exercised. What makes anyone think that Tim Horton’s, or any company, is going to be particularly good at that? And keep in mind that the money for sponsorship doesn’t get pulled out of thin air: it comes from the price they charge you for their products. So if Tim Horton’s didn’t sponsor events at all, that money could be left in your pocket, and you could donate it as you see fit.

p.s. Sorry, but comments are closed on this one. Postings in this area typically attract only loony and/or venomous comments.

1 comment so far

  1. […] I’ve blogged about the insurance industry, the mining industry, the auto industry, even the donut industry. But the pot industry? Yes, it’s […]

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