Target Rethinks Donations

Gaga lands an exclusive distribution deal with the mega chain and now the retailer agrees to donate to LGBT charities, but is it enough?

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Target suffered a blow last year when it was uncovered that the chain, with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., donated $150,000 to a MN Forward, a group that backed Tom Emmer, the failed Republican candidate for governor who opposed marriage equality. He was no friend to LGBT rights, which caused many gays and lesbians around the country to boycott the retail chain, which had long been considered a gay-friendly alternative to superstores like Wal-Mart.

But as of last week, when Lady Gaga announced an album distribution deal with Target (fans will be able to buy an exclusive deluxe edition of her new album Born This Way come May 23) the mood changed a bit. With the music deal comes the requirement that the retailer not only reform its past support of anti-gay initiatives, but it must also proactively donate to LGBT charities. The pop star told Billboard magazine that the negotiation was “intense” and that the deal “hinged upon their reform.” There’s no word on how much Target will dole out to gay causes.

But even before Gaga partnered with Target, the chain had already reformed the process by which funds are donated by creating a kind of review committee of senior executives who approve (or not) where funds are alloted, according to the Washington Blade.

“Target has a long history of working with a diverse group of musicians, entertainers and designers that appeal to a broad spectrum of our guests,” says Michael Francis, chief marketing officer for Target. Since 1946, the chain has given five percent of its income through community grants and programs. Today, that adds up to about $3 million each week.

Target’s formal giving platform – and all the new guidelines – is posted online. In it, the company says, “Target believes that engaging in legislative and public policy activities is an important and necessary element of operating a diversified, multi-national retail business. We work with elected officials of all political parties to help shape constructive public policy solutions that benefit our business, team, guests and the communities we serve.”

The reform also goes on to outline how the money can be distributed. This system will presumably be applied to any funds allocated for LGBT charity, as well.

But is that enough?

Steve Burman thinks so. As vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, he says, “We’re excited to be working with Target …we always have a tremendously successful relationship when we get together on something like this.”

Troy Carter, the pop star’s manager and chairman and CEO of Coalition Media Group, agrees, saying, “Target and Lady Gaga together is a win-win. The partnership provides us with an opportunity to really engage the fans easily and widen our reach on the album promotion.”

Others outside the music and retail business are being cautious. “It absolutely matters to me,” says Ross of Illinois (and formerly of Philadelphia). “I long ago gave up on the idea of moral corporations since, by definition, they’re incapable of moral action and they usually have their tentacles in all sorts of problems from Third World labor issues to environmental problems.”

But when Target donated money to the anti-gay politician, Ross says he still felt betrayed. “In light of Target’s supposed support for gay employees and their glib, hip, modern little advertisements, there was something especially galling about their betrayal,” he says. “I felt like my cool, smart friend turned out to be a stealth Mormon.”

He hasn’t set foot in a Target store since the story broke last year. “And I have bad-mouthed them to everybody I know,” he admits. “Will I shop there again? Maybe. It depends on what kind of proof they can provide for their reformation. Gaga’s move is a brilliant one and I hope that other stars with her kind of heft follow suit.”

Meanwhile, Marsi in New Jersey feels stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to shopping at and/or boycotting retailers. “Target is one of the few places I can shop since I am in a tight situation,” she says. “Same goes for Wal-Mart … I wish I could use my buying dollar as leverage to big companies, but it is kind of hard to use your buying dollar when you really don’t have a buying dollar to your name.”

But Marsi is sympathetic to the gay rights plight. She says her niece – a lesbian – had been registered at Target after gay marriage was recognized in the Garden State. “Then when the news came out about Target donations,” says Marsi, “I remember her mentioning that they wouldn’t do business there. I want my niece to be able to marry and have her marriage recognized and respected.”