Should a Catholic Charity Take Money from Hooters?

This is twice in two weeks that I’ve blogged about Hooters. I swear it’s a coincidence.

From MSNBC: Catholic charity says ‘no’ to Hooters fundraiser

St. Patrick Center, a Catholic charity that provides assistance to homeless people, has canceled a Thursday fundraising “Dine and Donate” event with a downtown Hooters restaurant after drawing complaints that such a collaboration wasn’t in keeping with the Christian faith….

This is not exactly an isolated incident. Charities of all kinds have to decide, on a pretty much constant basis, who they’ll accept money from and who they want to associate with. In some cases, the struggle is an internal one; in other cases, it’s the result of external criticism. (Just look at the criticism UNICEF faced for making a deal with Cadbury.)

It’s worth pointing out that a charity faces two different issues, here. One is simply the source of money. A charity might consider money from certain sources as ill-gotten gains. In such cases, the money from certain sources is going to be unwelcome, even if donated very discretely. In other cases, the issue is publicity. Some charities might be willing to take money from anyone, in principle, but worry about the impact of having their name associated with — well, with Hooters for example. These two issues (dirty money and a dirty reputation) are separable, at least in principle. But secrets are pretty hard to keep secret, especially in an era in which transparency is valued and in which corporate donors are relatively eager to publicize their good deeds to spit-shine their image. So really, the key concern is liable to be reputation.

And in terms of reputation, the anything-goes strategy seemingly suggested by some idealists is likely to be fatal to just about any charity. Those who think it’s “obvious” that St. Patrick Center, for example, should be happy and eager to take Hooters’ money should ask themselves: if Hooters is OK, how about the local strip club? How about a hardcore porn magazine? I’m not at all saying those various enterprises are all alike, in all morally-relevant ways. I’m just pointing out that most people will see some place where they would like a line drawn. And ethics bleeds into prudence here. Most charities have reputation and goodwill as their only real capital. A company that makes cars can recover from scandal by, well, making good cars. You don’t have to love the company to love the cars. But an organization whose only real asset is its reputation — well, sully the reputation and you’re pretty much sunk.

But then, neither can your typical cash-strapped charity afford to be too prissy about sources of cash. Look too closely at any donor and you’re very likely to find skeletons in the closet.

Thanks to Tara Ceranic for showing me this story.

5 comments so far

  1. Brandwashed on

    I agree with you on the note of reputation and goodwill, as the Hooters image will harm the church’s fundraising efforts.
    From the internal, “ill-gotten gains” perspective though, I don’t think it’s fair to group Hooters as “ill-gotten” money. They are, despite the skimpy clothing and sketchy reputation, an honest-to-goodness restaurant making their profits as a result of selling and serving food.

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Just to be clear: I myself am not categorizing Hooters that way. But I suspect that the relevant stakeholders of the charity in question here would see Hooters that way.


    • Ayman Reda on

      You do agree that the image hurts the church’s reputation, and then you describe the restaurant as a “honest-to-goodness” one. From a Christian point of view, that seems a contradiction. In my opinion, assessing profits ethically is a function of much more than just the act of selling.

      • Brandwashed on

        Hi Ayman,

        What I am trying to differentiate between is the reputation-factor as well as the actual ethical implications.

        So yes, Hooters is classified as “trashy” or “full of scantily-clad women” etc, which doesn’t go well with the image of the Catholic church.

        However, the profits that come from Hooters are not (even in a Christian sense) “dirty money” necessarily. They are not obtained by lying, cheating, stealing, bribery or prostitution. Does Christianity forbid dressing up in short-shorts and selling chicken wings? Not really.

  2. Ayman Reda on

    I am not convinced that the Christian view of selling using such an image is accomodating or even indifferent. But I am not an expert in such matters to elaborate further.
    At a more fundamental level, I prefer not to separate the two aspects you alluded to above.

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