Does Amazon's new "Smile" mean a windfall for your nonprofit's year-end fundraising?

Amazon Smile: A boon to your nonprofit?
I'm not a fan of "fundraising sales" like cookie dough, pizza kits, wrapping paper, raffle tickets, or popcorn. I think they do have a place in the realm of fundraising. But while I love asking for money, I don't like doing this type of sale.

So it's probably no surprise that I've never been a fan of the shopping portals that are supposed to give donations to nonprofits. To make them successful, nonprofits need to constantly promote them, reminding their donors to change their buying habits. It really bugs me that each nonprofit turns into a volunteer sales force for that company and promotes the company brand far more than their own. I can see tremendous benefit for the company--lots of sales with little effort--but not a great return for the nonprofit--lots of effort but little donations.

Is AmazonSmile a game changer?

Now Amazon is offering AmazonSmile. Just go to http://smile.amazon.com/ and choose a charity. From then on, any eligible purchase will result in 0.5% going to the charity.

They preloaded some charities, the usual suspects like charity:water and the American Red Cross. But you can also search. I chose a startup near Boston called Amirah. Amazon made it easy to find and choose. So now, presumably, every eligible purchase I make on Amazon will result in helping more woman rescued from human trafficking heal and put their lives back together.

Here is why I think AmazonSmile can be effective: millions already are shopping at Amazon. The other tools require you to go through their link to work. People are already going to Amazon's site. They don't have to change that behavior. They just need to choose your charity and then carry on as they were before.

Still chump change

This is still chump change. I thought I was a heavy Amazon user. But in reviewing my purchases for the year, if all of them were eligible, Amirah would've received a whopping $2.50. Nothing to write home about.

But that still $2.50 more than I've given to date. And if you have thousands of people doing this, you could start seeing real money.

What's in it for Amazon?

So what's in it for Amazon? Marketing. As with any retailer, we give the money but they get the marketing credit. When Walmart says it's given a million dollars to the Children's Miracle Network, they really mean their customers have given that much. They're usually the pass through organization, not the philanthropist.

And their choice of program name is awesome: AmazonSmile and the AmazonSmile Foundation. It reminds us of the boxes we receive. And reinforces the good feeling we get in receiving them.

This type of program also helps train us to shop at their store. No longer will we get a cashier asking if we want to buy a balloon or shamrock. We'll just get the good feeling of having this work for us.

It's worth trying

Having said all that, I definitely think it's worth trying. I get to do something I already do, shop on Amazon, and have a sliver of it go to a charity I care about, Amirah. Easy enough.

If you're looking to sign up, just go to: http://smile.amazon.com/. If you don't know who to support, would you consider supporting Amirah? Just search for it. It's the only Amirah that comes up!

If you want to register your nonprofit, just go to: http://org.amazon.com/. More details of the program are available here.

What about you?

Do you see AmazonSmile as helping your nonprofit or favorite cause?


Updated 10/30/2013 at 12:01 pm: I'd incorrectly reported the percentage as "0.05%." The article has been corrected to reflect the correct amount: 0.5%. The $2.50 was correct.
About Marc Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the author of Ask Without Fear!, director of The Nonprofit Academy, and founder of FundraisingCoach.com. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family!

Follow him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Linda Forrest says:

    As a fundraising professional responsible for raising about $13.5 million per year, I'm not a big fan of opportunities like this. As you said, they take an awful lot of time and bandwidth to promote for very little return.

    If my organization is going to spend a lot of staff time and money promoting something, there are a lot of things we can do that will bring in a LOT more revenue and do a lot more to brand our own organization in the process.

    Good on Amazon for doing something to benefit non-profits, but I won't be spending any resources on promoting it.

    • Thanks Linda!

      I am amazed at how "safe" promoting something like this feels for people, rather than promoting the great work they do. I don't get it. And I'd take your stance too! :)

    • jonathan says:

      I don't have the same background as you, but the piece that is hard to quantify is the benefit of social marketing. This allows groups to leverage that at zero cost. I personally stumbled across Amazon Smile randomly, signed up to support Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas and then posted on my facebook that if you use amazon you should look into Amazon Smile. Already four of my friends have signed up. This costs the groups who are receiving the benefit zero dollars and zero time.

  2. I concur with each of you. However if you put the money aside do you see any upside to the bigger nonprofit community? Is there good for our sector when people at least are thinking about doing good while shopping? The social sector needs to think in new creative ways to weave themselves into the fabric of people's lives, I think when this type of opportunity is looked at through the lens of a broader approach to creating a large pool of support this is another opportunity to be top of mind and be part of a donor's life. Even in act of buying something they can demonstrate what is of value.

    • Well said, Jay. I bet it will help groups with broad bases like charity:water and American Red Cross. I can see it being a popular way for people to help during crises too.

      And yes, I love the creative weaving of giving into our every day life. I am glad people keep innovating!

  3. Sadly, the organizations that spend the most time on this time of thing are the smallest organizations who can least afford to do so.
    As I understand it, an organization mus "raise" $5, which means $1000 in Amazon sales (excludes ebooks), before they actually get the cash. If that doesn't happen within one year, the money goes to another nonprofit.
    This will be super easy for the name-brand charities like Red Cross. For smaller charities like the local fledgling soup kitchen, they will spend countless hours promoting the heck of this and walk away with nothing.
    Furthermore, I do not think this is good for the broader nonprofit community. Why not? Because Susie Q. places a $200 Amazon order an selects a charity. She feels she has contributed something meaningful. So, even thought this is a charity she cares about, she does write a personal check to the charity. (Most consumers will not do the math to realize that gave $1)
    I wrote about this on my blog, http://www.letsraisesomemoney.com, and I said that the Smile Amazon will not leave many charities smiling. It will leave many charities running around promoting Amazon. It's a genius marketing strategy, but won't do much for the nonprofit community.

  4. "I'm not a fan of "fundraising sales" ... I don't like doing this type of sale."

    The average profit that a group receives from these sales is 40 - 50%. That's a significant return for their efforts. Amazon is giving a mere .5%, and you say that their program is "worth trying".

    May I ask what it is, you don't like about fundraising sales? For the record, I own a fundraising company.

    • Thanks, Dave.

      I mention it above but I think I can boil it down to two things:
      (1) Fundraising isn't shameful
      (2) Sales confuses the brand

      NOT SHAMEFUL
      When nonprofits are looking for something to sell, it's usually because they don't think people would really invest in them all alone. They need a crutch like raffle tickets or wrapping paper. I get that. Even blogged about it a few years back. http://fundraisingcoach.com/2008/12/23/thoughts-on-fundraising-sales/

      But fundraising isn't shameful. It's a noble endeavor.

      CONFUSES THE BRAND
      More importantly, sales confuses the donor. Most nonprofits are their sectors "best kept secret." They take valuable time and creativity they need to get better at telling their own story and learning to market themselves and instead market popcorn.

      Just saying.

      Honestly, selling pizza kits and snow cones does have a part in the fundraising mix. But that's not what people will learn from me. I wrote about a pitch I once got here:
      http://fundraisingcoach.com/2008/08/07/why-most-sales-pitches-to-nonprofits-dont-work/

      It's great to be a charitable business. And to partner with nonprofits with your products. And many do it very well.

      It's just not my thing.

      I hope you hear that my tone of voice is respect. :)

  5. Thank you for your reply Marc,

    I understand this isn't something you're interested in. To be frank, it's not a perfect fit for many groups. For the folks we work with, however, (mostly underfunded school music programs) product sales is a huge help.

    I read both of the blogs you referenced in your reply, and you make some good points. If you don't mind, I'd like to address a few of them here.

    1st. I completely agree that selling things that people wouldn't otherwise want or need, is a lousy idea. In fact, I would go farther and say that the abundance of slick companies offering these types of items (overpriced giftwrap, magazine subscriptions, candy) has really hurt this industry as a whole.

    2nd. I also agree that many groups are running too many fundraisers. Actually, this is a major issue. Chicken or the egg - "We didn't make enough money with the last fundraiser, so we need to hold another one. But our families are burned out on fundraising because we hold too many fundraisers, so they won't participate...". Alas, it turns out, that sales makes people uncomfortable in the same way that asking for donations does ("Ask Without Fear" you say? It applies to sales too.). :-)

    The groups that tend to do the best, limit their fundraisers to just one or two all year, and make it clear to their members that this is their only opportunity to raise the money they need.

    3rd. Likewise, there's nothing shameful in selling a quality product to support your group - particularly, if the quality is good and the profit is strong. Interesting that you referenced Sees Candy in your post, as they were the inspiration for our company. I don't want to go into details here, but after our daughter's school wrapped up one of their fundraisers, we thought "There has to be a better way."

    4th. One point that you make is not always true however, and that is that product sales dilute the brand. Again, if you're referring to groups that run sale after sale - sure. However, the Girl Scouts for example, are strongly identified with their annual cookie sale. For their group, this is a major part of their outreach program. They site that it teaches goal setting, presentation skills, teamwork, etc...

    If you're interested, here's a link to their site; http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/cookie_outcomes.pdf

    I respect your position on fundraising sales. I also like your approach that asking for donations doesn't take anything away from the donor. Likewise with a quality fundraising sales program.

    I'd like to think that they are 2 different approaches that, when handled correctly can have a good and healthy impact on a group's in financial needs.

    I hope you don't mind my long-winded reply. I actually enjoy your blog, and I plan to purchase your book to learn more.

    Kindest Regards,

  6. I use a Google Chrome extension called Smile Always. It redirects me to smile.amazon.com every time so I don't forget to use it

    • Nice! Thanks for the tip!

    • So do I Anna I have the google chrome extension as well. I guess I must of read the decimal point wrong, I thought it was 5% big difference. Luckily with my shopping habits alone the organization I choose already reached their $5.00 to be able to receive the money. Living in NYC I shop on amazon on a daily basis. But if others are not as computer savvy having to reprogram their amazon shopping habits to go to smile amazon every time they shop their charity of choice will probably miss out.

      Marc your article was very interesting and thank you for sharing the links. I myself volunteer with several non profits in my area and I choose my son's rowing program as my charity here in the city. Thinking of which we just had a parents meeting 2 nights ago and no one even brought up smile amazon. I found out because I follow their facebook page. They have a great program for middle and high school kids, where they teach "competitive rowing paired with rigorous academic support for underserved youth could change the trajectory of their teen years and beyond. They have since taught thousands of young people the sport of rowing, and through it the values of tenacity, focus, teamwork, and confidence." I quoted that through their website which I attached below. I will definitely speak to the parent coordinator and ask her to reach out via email to the other parents bout using it though. In the end every penny helps and financially they provide many services to the children at no cost including food, transportation, academic and college prep at no cost. Last year my son was going to a private school upstate and I paid over a 1000 dollars between enrollment, uniforms, and travel, without the added support of academics. Sorry if this sounds like a plug for their organization. :) With that being said I will definitely investigate it more and contact amazon as well for more details.

  7. I am involved in a small non profit in northern New Mexico where shopping on line is an absolute necessity because the alternative is travel at more than 1 hour to get to stores that many suburban and urban areas take for granted like Costco, Target, Sam's Club, etc. Most of the population here already is shopping at Amazon in large numbers..just ask the UPS guy! We are definitely adding this to our Fundraising efforts: it can hurt and every little bit helps.

  8. Here's the rub for me. I selected my charity (not a common large one) and then started shopping as usual on Amazon (via Smile). Out of curiosity, I search for all products that would be 'eligible for the Amazon Smile program' and came up with a measly 604; NONE of which I would buy from Amazon as many of the products were grocery store items. It's just not worth it in my opinion and it gives a false pretense that 'we are doing something for our charity' by shopping on Amazon Smile.
    I think its false advertising IMHO and a bit shameful.

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