Saturday, November 28, 2015

After tragedy: Generous or crass?

The Boston Marathon bombing brings out a debate about business' role in charity.

After tragedy: Generous or crass?

Is it generous or crass for Cold Stone Creamery to encourage patrons to purchase their Boston Cream Pie signature dessert in exchange for a $1 donation from each sale made to the Red Cross´ Boston chapter?
Is it generous or crass for Cold Stone Creamery to encourage patrons to purchase their Boston Cream Pie signature dessert in exchange for a $1 donation from each sale made to the Red Cross' Boston chapter?

After a tragedy, well-meaning folks step up to help out. The bombings in Boston are no exception.

But when businesses announce their charitable intentions (as in, we'll give a dollar from every sale to XYZ charity), is it commendable or crass?

I raise this issue because on Tuesday, the operators of the Cold Stone Creamery shops in King of Prussia and Springfield, Delaware County, reached out to say that, through Friday, they would donate $1 from the sale of every Boston Cream Pie signature dessert to the Red Cross' Boston chapter. A representative told me that $1 is the equivalent of the profit on the item.

Two thoughts:

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Is it proper for businesses to ask customers to buy something, with a percentage going to charity?
It's generous
It's crass
It's both

1. Cold Stone has pure intentions. It believes that this is a well-intentioned campaign to drum up a few bucks for the Red Cross (and yes - it does get the company's name out there, too).

2. Cold Stone is opportunistic. "A dollar?" Why can't a business simply send a flat monetary donation - say $5,000 - without asking their customers to "fund" a publicity campaign?

Since perception is reaIity, I asked the question "generous or crass?" on Facebook.

The reaction was swift. "Sometimes it's more about the symbolism and promotion (of the cause, not the company) than the money," said one commenter. Another agreed: "Is the proverbial glass half empty or half full? They could have just done nothing and continue to sell their ice cream as they do. We're getting too dark, cynical, inappreciative. Okay, maybe the tone was wrong but the gesture is positive and immediate."

But many others objected to the gesture.

One called it "philanthropic extortion." Another: "Their intentions may have been well-meant, but they wound up sounding like they're piggybacking off a tragedy. The tone, unfortunately, is more like the Spring Toyota Sell-a-thon."

Your thoughts?
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About this blog
Michael Klein, the editor/producer of, writes about the local restaurant scene in his Inquirer column "Table Talk." Have a question? Email it! See his Inquirer work here.

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