In early August, Chick-fil-A opened applications for a fresh initiative, Chick-fil-A Community Scholars. Where it differed from past efforts, namely the brand’s Remarkable Futures Scholarship, was Chick-fil-A made it available to members of the community—not just employees. It will award 12 scholarships of $25,000 annually to “community service-minded leaders” in an effort to help them further their education. Recipients will also have the chance to participate in a one-year leadership development program with the brand.

The program offers benefits such as up-front payment, where scholars can take the funds and directly apply them to tuition, housing, and other on-campus expenses (without requiring tuition reimbursement).

It will be applicable at any qualifying school, college, or university, including two- or four-year colleges and universities, online programs, or vocational-technical schools.

And as noted, recipients can participate in the Chick-fil-A Scholars program, which is a calendar engagement that includes mentoring and leadership development opportunities.

To apply, applicants need to be a resident of the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada; be recommended by a teacher, coach, or community leader; and be a postsecondary undergraduate or graduate student, or intend to enroll in undergraduate or graduate study for the 2023–2024 academic year.

One thing to note as well: Age is not a factor. Someone 20 or 70 can apply.

The program is an expansion of Chick-fil-A’s education initiatives. The aforementioned Remarkable Futures platform has awarded more than $136 million to over 80,000 restaurant employees through leadership and True Inspiration scholarships.

Rodney Bullard, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Chick-fil-A, chatted with QSR about the new scholarship and how it factors into the brand’s connection to the communities it operates in.

Start with where this program breaks ground.

We are very proud of our team member scholarship that provides thousands of scholarships to a very diverse array of Chick-fil-A team members. But we also wanted to be able to support those in the community, regardless of age. And help those who are progressing in their lives in a manner that we feel also progresses the community. So, for us, this was our opportunity to be a good neighbor. Our opportunity to lead in the community. And we’re doing this throughout the continental United States, but also Puerto Rico and in Canada as well. This is very cool for us.

Elaborate on the open-age part of the program.

We think of this in the whole context of economic mobility. One of the things that we’re trying to do is to further the economic mobility of our communities and our neighbors. If you think about the history of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy was born into relative poverty. He lived in one of the nation’s first housing projects, Techwood Homes. It was through his own entrepreneurship and his own economic mobility that Chick-fil-A was created and that the opportunities for thousands and thousands of people, for many generations, have been provided for. So when we think about economic mobility, we think about three different areas: we think about education, we think about entrepreneurship, and we think about employment.

So from an educational standpoint, if we really are sincere about economic mobility and pushing people forward, helping people forward, then that shouldn’t be limited to age. Because people are improving their lot at every stage of life and, frankly, sometimes people just get opportunities at a later stage. We’re cognizant and mindful of that.

Talk about the leadership development side.

We will work directly on that. We will continue to create and stand that up. The leadership development program is one that already existed for those who receive the $25,000 scholarship as a team member. We’ve taken those team members to places like Disney and allowed them to hear leadership. We’ve taken them to the Aspen Institute. We’ve allowed them to really grow in their leadership because, at the end of the day, we don’t just want to invest in them from a monetary standpoint—we want to invest in them from a holistic standpoint so they can take that education and that economic mobility and they can go create others in the same way that Truett Cathy also used his economic mobility to lead.

This is the personification of that in some ways.

What role does community play in Chick-fil-A’s ethos?

It’s extremely important. It’s part of our corporate purpose to have a positive impact on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A. It’s also important from a business standpoint. I truly believe that if you take care of your community, your community will take care of you. So there’s this symbiotic relationship that we get a chance to engage in and we get the opportunity and the license to do business because of that as well.

Talk of Chick-fil-A’s hospitality has circulated for years, on social, etc.  How real is that guest feedback?

I’m 100 percent sure people appreciate that, and they expect that. That same hospitality that you were seeing in-store, I think people want to see that it is genuine. And that is cemented when they see that the hospitality is not just in-store; it’s outside the store. If you meet me, or someone else from Chick-fil-A in a place that you didn’t expect, and you also still feel like you’re welcome and you still feel appreciated and you still feel honored. So this scholarship is one of the ways in which we are taking that hospitality outside the store.

How does this all fit into the brand’s broader vision?

It’s a core value but it’s also a business multiplier. If you think about the number of people who work at Chick-fil-A. Our president, Tim Tassopoulos, was a team member. And I work with people who received a Chick-fil-A scholarship to Berry College, or other places. So it’s a multiplier from the standpoint of team member retention. Or recruiting. It’s a multiplier from the standpoint of just continuing to perpetuate our culture, both internally and externally.

Look, we’d love with this community scholarship for that to be future operators, future team members, future corporate leaders at Chick-fil-A. And if they’re not at Chick-fil-A, then corporate leaders, future politicians, future whatever, in some other arena. We’ve done our job if that’s the case.

Employee Management, Fast Food, Story, Chick-fil-A