The executive director of the Arby’s Foundation talks ‘opportunity’—and how an effective corporate responsibility platform speaks to every stakeholder.
By Allie Williams
Arby’s is more than just sandwiches. The Arby’s Foundation was founded in 1986 as a way for the company to give back to the communities it serves. It has donated more than $80 million to various charitable causes across the country, and since 2011 has focused its mission to ending childhood hunger in America—contributing nearly $25 million to hunger relief organizations in the U.S. Chris Fuller, executive director of the Arby’s Foundation, discusses what drives CR at the company and how the future of its philanthropy looks “PurposeFULL.”
Allie Williams: As a practitioner, how does telling the CR story feel different from everyday sales and marketing?
Chris Fuller: The key is to create a level of consistency where the story may be different, but your voice is the same. Authenticity is important; for example, we’re authentic in how we market the brand, and we’re equally authentic in the ways in which we promote our corporate responsibility efforts. That level of consistency wasn’t built overnight, but audiences can certainly tell the difference.
AW: How has your understanding of CR’s value proposition—both within your company or sector and as a general matter—evolved over time?
CF: I think the conversation regarding corporate responsibility today centers on impact, and that certainly hasn’t always been the case. What has changed is that the public today is holding businesses more accountable. They want to see a clear return on their investment. If your stakeholders are going to support you—whether through their voice or their wallet—they want to see, hear, and feel the ROI.
The Arby’s Foundation looks at how to ensure its investments make the most impact. In years past, it primarily focused on distributing grants to the right people and the right organizations. It will continue to do so, but the foundation is also studying how it can become more directly involved in programs and impact efforts. We don’t want to just watch our initiatives succeed from the passenger seat—we want to increase our own role in the impact process.
AW: How do you convey CR’s value proposition to your many different stakeholders—such as employees, customers, shareholders, regulators, and other influencers?
CF: I’ve never thought of corporate responsibility as an actual “responsibility.” It’s about “opportunity.” Arby’s has a tremendous opportunity to make a positive impact on 77,000 team members, the millions of guests served each year, and the thousands of communities in which the company operates.
The Arby’s CR platform—called PurposeFULL—is built around four pillars that are tied to the most important elements of the company: empowering team members; increasing its sustainable footprint; committing to the highest quality foods, and fostering youth development. When you create a CR program with your most important audiences in mind, it ensures that you can speak to every stakeholder, from employees to customers to communities. For us, doing so has created a strong bench of support for the foundation.
AW: What is your CR/sustainability corporate strategy for 2017 and beyond?
CF: In 2017, we’re going to begin evolving our efforts to combat childhood hunger into a larger commitment to empower youth. Finding solutions to childhood hunger has and will continue to be a core pillar for the foundation and brand, but we’ll soon introduce two new elements: youth leadership and career readiness. Together, our efforts to eradicate childhood hunger, cultivate leaders, and develop careers, will strengthen the foundation and communities we serve.