McDonald's Happy Meal charity promo goes easy on the cash

one centA marketing campaign for McDonald's Happy Meals in the name of supporting charities has a small note that reveals just how tiny that support is -- one penny per meal. A penny.

"It's a little disingenuous to claim you are donating money for each sale and then trying to hide the amount," owner Edgar Dworsky told Consumer Ally. "If they came out and said 'we'll donate a penny for each Happy Meal we sell,' fine. I don't wish to diminish the value of Ronald McDonald House. Just be a little more straightforward."

Dworsky, an attorney and former director of consumer education for Massachusetts, published the passing words on his site, Mouse Print, which scrutinizes fine print (a.k.a. "mouse print") on labels, contacts and advertising on behalf of consumers.

The ads for the program promote the notion that McDonald's will donate money to Ronald McDonald House Charities for every Happy Meal sold at participating restaurants.

In a press release announcing the promotion, the company said:

"Today McDonald's® announced a new in-restaurant fundraising program and online campaign benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities® (RMHC®) and local children. Beginning this summer participating McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. will donate proceeds from all daily Happy Meal® and Mighty Kids Meal® sales to RMHC - McDonald's "Charity of Choice" - benefiting more than 11,000 sick and critically ill children and their families every day."

Mouse Print says the operative word here is the "proceeds" the fast food chain says it will donate from the sale of these meals to charity. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, "proceeds" means:
  • the total amount brought in [the proceeds of a sale]
  • the net amount received [as for a check or from an insurance settlement] after deduction of any discount or charges
"Therefore, you might expect the company to be making a very generous contribution, whether proceeds is defined as either the gross or net amount of sales," Dworsky writes.

But in the penultimate paragraph of the press release, the fast food chain mentions in passing that the "proceeds" from each $2 to $3 Happy Meal amount to "one penny." A TV commercial also notes "McDonald's donates a penny per Happy Meal" in the fine print at the bottom of the screen.

McDonald's addressed the criticism in an e-mail to WalletPop: "Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) has been McDonald's "Charity of Choice" for more than 35 years. A portion of every Happy Meal sold now benefits RMHC (1 penny per Happy Meal sold)," wrote Danya Proud, McDonald's spokesperson. "This translates to millions of dollars raised each year given millions of Happy Meals we sell each year – a little can add up to make big change. Given the current economy, many people don't have as much to donate to charity, but at McDonald's a little can be given and adds up to millions."
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