• U.S.

The Salvation Army’s Mixed McBlessing

2 minute read
Julie Rawe

The Salvation Army, a faith-based charity best known for its disaster-relief efforts and thrift stores, hit the philanthropic jackpot when McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc, who died last fall of brain cancer, left it a record-setting $1.5 billion bequest. But the evangelical group spent several weeks debating whether to accept the windfall. Why look a McMegabucks gift horse in the mouth? The money comes as a mixed blessing because Kroc earmarked the donation to build–but only partly maintain–dozens of community centers across the country. A prototype for these lavish centers already exists in San Diego courtesy of Kroc, who gave the Salvation Army $92 million in 1998 to build a 12-acre complex, which includes an ice rink and a climbing wall called Kroc Rock. But building more such centers will necessitate raising an additional $40 million to $70 million a year to cover the operating costs.

“After we get up off the floor,” says the Salvation Army’s stunned commander in chief Todd Bassett, “we have a tremendous amount of work to do.” For starters, the Salvation Army needs to launch a public-awareness campaign, not only to explain why it needs the extra cash, but also to make sure it’s known that none of Kroc’s high-profile gift can fund any of the charity’s other programs. The group plans to hire advertising firm Young & Rubicam to help get the word out. Last week Bassett fielded calls that were a mixture of envy and sympathy from the presidents of the United Way and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “They called to say, ‘Congratulations on a wonderful problem.'”

–By Julie Rawe

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