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Last week, Target got some press coverage it didn’t want – articles in a variety of newspapers and on “Fox News” about the retailer’s decision to exile the Salvation Army and its kettles from the front of its more that 1,100 stores nationwide. Target’s decision will cost the homeless – the least and the lost – about $9 million this year alone. If Target doesn’t reverse its policy, that loss will compound every year into the future.

Target has explained to the legion of angry ex-Target shoppers who have e-mailed the company at guest.relations@target.com that it found the exception it was granting to its no solicitations policy to have become too unwieldy. Ex-Target customers noted that Wal-Mart and other stores had found a way to let the Army ring its bells, and refused to accept Target’s protestations of good corporate citizenship based upon its otherwise fine record of giving.

This is the Christmas season, after all – a time anchored in the story of a family that needed help receiving the comfort they needed from strangers. It has also struck many that it is unusually churlish that a retailer – which has grown large on the tradition of gift giving begun with the Three Kings of the Orient’s travel to Bethlehem – would find it necessary to sever their one obvious tie with the original meaning of the season.

The Yahoo message board has been aflame with back and forths – often profane – and www.dontshoptarget.com has sprung up. It will be months until Target’s 4th Quarter results are known and compared to Wal-Mart’s, but the angry shoppers of 2004 will stay angry for many years, and many thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, will not return to the store that is giving Scrooge and Marley a run for their reputed money.

There is one other twist. The fine research hospital, St. Jude of Memphis, Tenn., has picked this year to launch “Thanks & Giving,” a holiday season appeal for support for research into the cures for pediatric cancer. This effort has vast support among Hollywood elites and corporate America. Among the supporters is Target, which is selling gift cards, $5 the face value of which is immediately peeled off and sent to St. Jude, and which is also matched – up to $1.2 million – by Target.

Now this looks like charity, but is it? Does Target use the charitable impulse of its shoppers to increase gift card sales, and does the percentage of gift cards sold but unused more than offset Target’s $1.2 million?

Did St. Jude insist on the exiling of Salvation Army as a condition of Target’s participation in the big roll out of this glitzy new campaign? Is St. Jude considered a “safe charity,” secular with a sectarian name, and fun to be associated with given the glamour of the Hollywood affiliates?

Research into pediatric cancer is indeed a noble cause, but did St. Jude muscle out – intentionally or unintentionally – the dowdy old, very Christian Salvation Army with its unglamorous business of feeding drunks and clothing homeless?

These are questions not intended to detract from the fine work that the researchers at St. Jude undertake, or the genuine need for funds given to support that research. But it is all a little too coincidental for me.

Target has hurt itself, and in a way that will replicate every day, week, month and year that its exile of the bell ringers and the kettles continues. What were they thinking? And were they obliged by agreement with St. Jude to do the deed?

And would the original St. Jude approve of the exiling of the Salvation Army?


If you’d like to express your thoughts about this, write to Target at: guest.relations@target.com.

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