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The AmazonSmile Predicament… and a Solution!

If you have been in fundraising for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard these comments:

“Why aren’t we promoting AmazonSmile? It’s such an easy way to raise money.”
“PrimeDay is coming up… what’s the plan for talking about AmazonSmile?”
“So many people are ordering online… why don’t we send them to AmazonSmile?”
“I just donated without doing anything! You really need to be using AmazonSmile as a fundraising tool.”

I have generally been able to skirt these issues by focusing on our more impactful campaigns. But during the pandemic, with an astounding spike in online shopping, the topic had once again reared its smirking, “smiling” head.

You can do a quick search online and find a few tips on making the most of AmazonSmile. But for every post about utilizing this platform as a revenue-generating activity, you’ll find ten more about why it’s a terrible idea.

Some of you might be aware that in June of 2020, I relocated to Philadelphia to start a new position with WHYY to focus on digital membership and engagement. With this new role, specifically aimed at digital revenue initiatives, I’m sure you can imagine the flood of ideas and suggestions that came my way. (Not unsolicited, by the way… shout out to all my creative colleagues! You guys are the best!)

The AmazonSmile topic, however, began to grow legs. It was not only suggested by staff, but creeped into the minds of leadership, fellow donors, and even board members. Like a pesky, invasive vine that continued to pollute the beautiful fundraising garden so carefully tended by our development team, it had to be addressed. So, with my proverbial weedkiller in hand, I crafted a statement about our AmazonSmile position and promotional efforts. And you are welcome to use the template!

For this analysis, I used numbers I pulled from my own personal AmazonSmile dashboard, screenshot below. Pay attention to the number generated for your charity. It’s the total your organization has ever received up to the month listed. Not that month, not that quarter, and not year-to-date. That is a TOTAL number.

AmazonSmile Dashboard

For the anonymity of my organization, I deleted our actual numbers in paragraph four. But keep in mind that only one half of a cent for every dollar spent on Amazon comes to the organization. The percentage of our AmazonSmile donations to our overall revenue goal was 0.00036%. Add to that figure the free marketing that Amazon receives through the nonprofit promotional efforts. It’s hardly a wise investment.

At the same time, I want to emphasize that it’s important to patiently educate our friends about fundraising work. It’s tough to explain the process of “relentless prioritization and evaluation to allocate resources to the initiatives that result in the highest impact,” as I shared with one staff member.  I always work to be a positive but informative force in my organization with a willingness to be flexible within the desires of management. Hence our decision to utilize AmazonSmile promotion in ways that would not overshadow or interfere with other more impactful efforts.

The AmazonSmile Template for You

Dear Colleagues,

I’d like to shed some light into our promotional decisions around AmazonSmile, as this topic often circulates internally and with our audience and membership at large.

You may have seen that Amazon Foundation has donated over $293 million to nonprofits through AmazonSmile since inception in 2013. Wow! Amazing!

Except… there are over 1 million nonprofits who are a part of the program, which means that the average nonprofit has received $293 total in the past 8 years. That’s $36 a year. (Roughly. Margin of error with the length of time nonprofits have been a part of the program, of course, but you get the idea.)

The good news is that our audience is more active! Since we joined in [enter year joined], we’ve received a total of [enter your total here]. That’s an average of [enter total donations divided by years] per year. So, we are exceeding the national average by leaps and bounds. That’s great! But this is hardly a dent in our revenue expectations of nearly [enter annual revenue goal] this coming fiscal year.

The benefit of AmazonSmile is the opportunity for passive income, as you can see. The problem with the program relates to basic fundraising principles:

  1. We do not receive donor information, thereby preventing any cultivation, renewal, or membership opportunities (aka future sustainability).
  2. Participants in the program may be less inclined to contribute through other channels, believing that “they’ve already contributed to WHYY” thereby preventing more meaningful and sustainable contributions.
  3. We must use our own valuable marketing resources (i.e. money and time) for promotion which could be better invested in efforts such as underwriting spots, passport, gift memberships, vehicle donations or other campaigns that offer significant impact on our revenue expectations.

At the same time, we know that this is on the minds of our partners, members, and even our leadership. As such, we will be launching basic email promotional tiles in areas where we have no underwriters or other competing priorities and adding this option to our website support page.

We have a direct link to AmazonSmile that you can share with your peers, with our viewers, or even use yourself. Go to: [pull the link from your AmazonSmile admin account in the marketing section]. The link is preset with our organization selected so that you can start shopping immediately.

Of course, I will always give my standard caveat that every organization is different. If you have the resources to test the impact of AmazonSmile promotional efforts, go for it! Smaller organizations with limited staff might choose to focus on other, more impactful fundraising strategies. I would encourage you to do your own research to come to the best conclusion for your development initiatives.

Need more help or have other questions? I’m at your service. 
Email me at jen@charityjen.com

Plus: More Resources for You!

Take a peek at my free online fundraising guide that covers the basics of setting up a successful program, as well as the free growth funnel guide to grow your audience and retain donors.