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McDonald’s: Proceeds of Happy Meals Donated?

McDonald’s has been advertising that it will donate money to Ronald McDonald House Charities for every Happy Meal sold at participating restaurants.

At HappyMeals.com, they do the same:

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.

The keyword here is “proceeds” — that they are going to donate the proceeds from the sale of these meals to charity.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “proceeds” means:


1 : the total amount brought in [the proceeds of a sale]
2 : 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 per meal, whether proceeds is defined as either the gross or net amount of sales. Whoa, as they say.

So how much is McDonald’s really giving for each Happy Meal sold? According to the fine print in their TV commercial, and a disclosure further down their press release:


The “proceeds” from a $2 or $3 Happy Meal is only a penny? I’m not lovin’ it (nor buying it).

Thanks to Mark G. for this submission.

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23 thoughts on “McDonald’s: Proceeds of Happy Meals Donated?”

  1. In all fairness, Ronald McDonald House is one of the country’s finest charities. They do an absolutely remarkable job for families of children being treated for serious diseases, especially childhood cancers. The Joan Krok foundation (after Ray Krok, McDonald’s founder), contributes enormously to worthy charitable causes. I agree that the mouse print is somewhat deceptive, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Their food may not be the healthiest, and their employment practices may not be the most enlightened, but the McDonald Organization is definitely community minded in the best sense of the term. Mark Gary Blumenthal, MD, MPH, Knoxville, TN

  2. Note that they didn’t say “THE proceeds” or “ALL of the proceeds”. By simply saying they are donating proceeds from Happy Meal sales, they are implying that they will donate SOME of the proceeds from each Happy Meal sale. Now I agree, a penny per Happy Meal isn’t much. At least it doesn’t appear that they are capping the contribution like most promotions of this type do, e.g., 25 cents from each can of X sold will go to cancer research, up to a $100,000 total corporate contribution. In that case, the company often advertises the promotion long after the contribution cap has been reached, leading people to think that their purchases are making a difference when they really aren’t.

    Edgar replies: Richard, also note that didn’t limit their pledge by saying “some of the” proceeds either.

  3. “Their food may not be the healthiest, and their employment practices may not be the most enlightened, but the McDonald Organization is definitely community minded in the best sense of the term. Mark Gary Blumenthal, MD, MPH, Knoxville, TN”

    Whenever we needed anything for scouts, 4H, baseball, soccer, Rotary and virtually anything else the local McDonald’s was there to help. The local operation was a franchisee for years and now a corporate location but the mindset has never changed. IMO Dr. Blumenthal is spot on with his assessment.

  4. Anyone like McDonald’s who raises millions for charity, no matter what the percentage, should be recognized in a positive light. Thats like saying why vote……..my vote is only one of millions. Mouse print should be expending their energies elsewhere, like the fine print on documents supplied by the credit card whores and the banks with their hidden fees.

    Thank you.


  5. This is not a new ploy to make the non nutitious food served to kids seem more paletable. Many companies state they will give “a portion” of proceeds to help various charities. Yes, McDonald’s does support it’s charity and no one questions the charity does good work but to USE the charity to sell it’s product raises ethical questions. The penny per meal donation is of course meaningless as the monies set aside for the charity is decided by management and the amount allocated has been predetermined in the overall McDonald’s budget. In other words the total money donated will not change even if they play a PR game to make patrons believe they are helping to support the charity.

  6. How about this? Instead of the company trying to assuage my guilt for using their unhealthy products by promising a penny to a charity, why don’t I just give the $3-4 the crappy meal would cost directly to the charity myself? The charity wins because they get a bigger donation, and I win because I lose a few pounds and I get the tax deduction instead of the evil corporation?

    Now, everyone follow suit and we can end these stupid promotions.

  7. I get happy meals for the grandkids as a special treat. My grandma used to bake cookies made with pure fat and sugar. Not sure which is worse but as long as the kids aren’t living on it no big deal. It is a big deal that Micky D has donaated millions to the Ronald McDonald houses. I salute them for that every time I drive down to Rochester, MN and pass the enormous Ronald McDonald house accross the street from the Mayo clinic and Children’s hospital.

  8. McDonald’s has given more money to charities than 99% of the companies in the world. Think about that. Think about how many THOUSANDS of families this company has helped. Most people don’t know this, but RMHC doesn’t just give money to the houses, they give hundreds of thousands of dollars to other charities as well, like Doctors Without Borders and Paul Newman’ Hole In The Wall Gang. McDonald’s officers, managers, employees, and franchises give hundreds of hours of their own time in communities.

    And yet, Mr. Dworsky, who really has no idea how much impact this incredible corporation has on the lives of people in need has the nerve to say that a penny isn’t enough. How much have you donated Mr. Dworsky? How much of an impact have you had on the lives of your fellow man? How about getting up from behind that keyboard and helping out. It’s easier to cast stones than coins I guess. By the way Mr. D, you can even volunteer to help out at one of the houses. Just a suggestion.

  9. Edgar replies: What I find amazing about the comments above is that most do not address the ADVERTISING issue raised — and that is the SOLE focus of the original post. The post does NOT criticize McDonald’s charity, does not diminish the work it does and the people it helps, and does not demean the total amount of money the company has donated over many years to this worthy cause.

    The post only takes issue with the manner in which McDonald’s advertises its donation per meal. They say that “proceeds” of the sales of Happy Meals will be donated, when they are not, no matter how you define “proceeds”. They say they will donate “money” for each Happy Meal sold. While that is literally true, by burying the actual amount in a fine print footnote — one penny — many viewers will not catch that fact, and thus might be misled into believing it is a higher amount.

    Do you think it is an accident that the disclosure about the penny is not conspicuous?

    Too many posters seem willing to give McDonald’s a pass on this because it is for charity. No company, no matter how charitable they are, is given a license to potentially mislead the public in advertising, particularly when it will ultimately benefit the corporation more than the charity.

    All we suggest is that McDonald’s be upfront about the amount of its donation, rather than bury the facts in mouse print.

  10. I know I’m not sticking to the focus of the article, either, but what bothers me about these corporate donations is that the money comes from the customers & the tax deduction goes to the corporations. Do people not see this??? If you want to support a charity, do it yourself & don’t give the tax break away to corporations who are already getting ridiculous tax breaks to begin with!

  11. There is a reason why all of the posters do not address the advertising aspect of Mr. Dworsky’s post. It isn’t important. Not compared with the overall good that is being accomplished. Where is the misleading information in Burger King ads? Where is the hidden language in Dunkin Donuts’ advertising. It isn’t there because those firms don’t contribute what McDonald’s does.

    And whether McDonald’s will ultimately benefit more than the charity is again not important because there would not be a charity without the company. Edgar, you are really barking up the wrong tree here. Go pick on companies that do BAD things willya.

  12. The whole point of this website is to show the mouseprint in advertising, not whether or not a company does good. If they didn’t put that they would donate 1 penny for each meal sold in very fine print there would be no problems.

    Why not just come out in the ad and say every time you buy a happy meal McDonalds will donate 1 penny to the charity?? Probably cause people would think were pretty cheap for only donating 1 penny!!!

    And yes I know it goes to a great cause and adds up to millions of dollars.

  13. So Brian, would we be better off if they just didn’t give the penny at all? It would certainly assuage your sensibilities. Who cares if the kids get the pennies, right? At least no one would be mislead. Give me a break!

  14. #
    Quoting Lana
    “I know I’m not sticking to the focus of the article, either, but what bothers me about these corporate donations is that the money comes from the customers & the tax deduction goes to the corporations. Do people not see this??? If you want to support a charity, do it yourself & don’t give the tax break away to corporations who are already getting ridiculous tax breaks to begin with!”
    Comment by Lana — September 23, 2010 @ 9:25 am

    The donation comes from the company. They gave up a penny of their profit from the sale of that meal. They didn’t raise the price to cover the penny. So, yes, they deserve whatever tax break they can take.

    This is not to say that maybe they should donate a larger amount (5 cents?), but a penny is what they have decided. So be it.

  15. Mike-

    The point of this website is to make people aware of mouse print in advertising. Not sure why all of these people are making comments on how great McDonald’s is for giving to charities. YES It is great that they are giving back, but it’s not the reason why we are analyzing their ad. If they didn’t put tiny little print that no one can read without pausing their TV and getting to within an inch of the screen to read it we wouldn’t be here. The whole point is why put that in mouse print instead of big print right in the ad?? Doesn’t matter what they give, it could say they’ll give $2 or 100%, we’re still just here to make people aware of it.

  16. This is the company whose proceeds from one day coffee sale in 1994 was $1.7 million, remember the “hot coffee” award! And yet its marketing team is continuing with its deceptive play on words.

  17. So a penny might not seem like much but how many happy meals are bought every month? Every week? Every day? You may think a penny is not enough, I think a penny can make a difference. (Can anyone else think of this cup as half full instead of half empty?)

  18. I too work for McDonald’s PR department and have come to assuage your negative calling-attention-to of our recent PR stunt. I will relate a story about how I live in a very small rural town and how McDonalds donated boys jockstraps to the local sports teams, then reaffirm what a terrific company they are.
    In reality, our finance department spent a month crunching numbers and determined that the public’s perceived benefit of our ‘donations’ would drive sales up enough to outweigh the cost of actually donating money, after all we are a for-profit business. Unfortunately, telling people about how generous we are ended up costing many millions more than we actually planned on donating, so we had to reduce the amount to a penny. Those sly goons in our legal department forced us to put the amount on the AD, so we crunched it in as small a space in a difficult-to-read font so people wouldn’t really pay attention to it. But no, you guys are right we’re an awesome company.

  19. I have blogged about this – my understanding is that they signed a declaration of following this initiative http://www.bbb.org/us/about-children-food-beverage-advertising-initiative/ . Those advertising gurus found a way to get around it. You are not seeing the food or character giveaways in the advertising but you see toddlers (very cute ones at that)looking for HOPE in the box. I have had parents tell me their kids see it and ask what they are talking about – parents explain and the kids say they want to help by buying a Happy Meal. KIDS are very persuasive in getting adults to take them to McDonalds. YES, McDonalds can do some amazing things but don’t give them a free ride. Be more upfront McDonalds! If it was on a Big Mac (not nutrition-wise) I would have less problem with it BUT don’t use toddlers. Read this article – 800 calories out of 2000 are empty calories for kids today!!! http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/DietNutrition/22525?utm_content=GroupCL&utm_medium=email&impressionId=1285999467300&utm_campaign=DailyHeadlines&utm_source=mSpoke&userid=134896
    The Frugal Dietitian

  20. I suspect this blog is winding down. This is yet another example of the authors nitpicking in order to meet some self-imposed deadline. The authors will not be happy until there is a full-page Happy Meal ad placed in every major paper. Said ad will have no photo art, just bold, black size 24 font that details in 6th-grade English exactly what they plan to do with *all* of the money you pay for that Happy Meal. 50% to labor, 17% to taxes, 15% to leases and related expenses, 10% to ingredients, 4% to advertising, 2% to transportation, 1% to packaging, and 1% to profit. Oh, and for a limited time, McDonald’s will donate 0.3% of its profit to XYZ charity for every Happy Meal purchased.

    And a word of advice – if your intention is to make a charitable contribution with your $2.99, don’t blow it on a Happy Meal. If, however, you want to buy a Happy Meal, you can feel a little better knowing that about 0.3% of your money is being donated to a good cause.

    To MousePrint – The reason it is called “fine print” in the first place is because it is small and unobtrusive. The purpose of the ad is to advertise the product, not the fine print. Not every time that you spot small letters does it indicate a scam. Sometimes there is just additional information that the advertiser wishes to convey without paying for additional column inches.

  21. When Mcd’s first started running the Happy Meals/Proceeds donated spots, I emailed them, asking how much money is donated per meal. Their quick response: that participation varies depending on the owner of any given franchise, so they couldn’t provide a figure. I wrote back, asking, surely there’s a minimum percentage? They didn’t respond to the followup. Hmm. But even I was suprised to eventually learn, while reading the fine print myself, that it was only one penny per meal!

  22. I suspect Ducheznee’s commenting skills are winding down. He makes yet another example of commenters nitpicking in order to meet some self-imposed goal of trash-talking. He will not be happy until there is a full-page disclosure on the main page of MousePrint disclosing how MousePrint is not just about exposing scams (which it often does) but how it also calls attention to good things written in the “small” print, hence the name of the website.

    And a word of advice – if your intention is to win the internetz with your scolding and nay-saying commenting, don’t blow it on not understanding what the site is about in the first place.

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