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AmazonSmile – More Like AmazonFrown

AmazonSmile was discontinued last month, with very little attention given to this decade-long charity program. Being run by the leading e-commerce platform in the world gave the program great potential. I would rather have seen Amazon revamp AmazonSmile to make it work as they promised it would in their marketing.

AmazonSmile launched in 2013 with a mission to make it easier for customers to support their favorite charities. However, it fell short of expectations for both Amazon and the charities. The gist of the program is that you could support your favorite charity just by shopping. Amazon would donate .5% (half a penny per dollar spent) to the participating charity of your choice. To put things in perspective, that’s only five dollars for every thousand dollars spent.

However, the primary problem with the program wasn’t the donation percentage. It was how difficult Amazon made it for you to donate. To participate, customers had to go to a different website (smile.amazon.com) for their purchases to count towards supporting a charity. Similarly, shoppers who used the Amazon app couldn’t participate in this program from their phones until 2020, when the e-commerce giant finally made it accessible among all devices. Still, app users had to manually turn on the AmazonSmile feature to participate in this charitable act. Both of these hurdles added an extra step for customers and made it significantly less likely for them to return after choosing a charity to support.

This was all wrapped into a program that promised to make donating so easy that you wouldn’t even notice you were doing it. The message and the execution never matched up.

If Amazon genuinely wanted to help charities, they would have given a percentage of all sales rather than just sales made on the AmazonSmile domain. Even if the donation percentage were lower than the already low .5%, this would have made the program more accessible to supporters and undoubtedly provided more financial support to the participating organizations. Limiting the passive donation opportunity for all of Amazon’s customers hindered this program’s success and significantly impacted charity fundraising opportunities.

We shared the news of the shutdown with one of our nonprofit clients, Amanda Clair, from The Arc of Southington, and she said, “I did not hear that. That’s too bad. The initiative seemed promising, and we hoped for significant donations from AmazonSmile. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and it was nowhere near as successful as we expected.”

The saddest part about the failure of AmazonSmile is how much time, and money charities spent promoting the AmazonSmile program (and, as a result, the entire Amazon brand was promoted as a great company doing good). At SkyeLine Studio, we added AmazonSmile buttons to countless websites, emails, and social media accounts promoting the program. Yet, most charities that participated in AmazonSmile rarely saw a return on their investment. Recent data showed that the average donation per charity in 2022 was a mere $230 in the U.S., making it clear that Amazon’s good intentions were spread far too thin.

Overall, while the decision to wind down instead of fixing the AmazonSmile program is disappointing, it’s important to remember that there are other ways to support your favorite charities. Harness, a nonprofit fundraising platform, offers a Round-Up (your change) program. SkyeLine Studio has implemented the Round-Up initiative on The Arc of Southington’s website, email blasts, and more. Which has helped increase donations. This fundraising service aims to give shoppers a clear path to charitable giving and offers organizations the tools to market their cause effectively. Platforms like Harness enable charities to take more control of their donation initiatives.

Amazon will provide a final contribution to each of the one million-plus nonprofits that used their program, equivalent to 25% of what the charity received from AmazonSmile last year. And charities like The Arc of Southington can continue pursuing their fundraising goals with new and improved programs without making their donors jump through hoops. Because in the end, AmazonSmile’s rise and fall proved a valuable lesson for corporations looking to get involved in nonprofit initiatives. Simply put, you have to be the change you want to see.