AmazonSmile – How the ‘perception’ of giving can hurt fundraising for your arts organization


AmazonSmile was created in 2013, and the site is supposed to mirror the shopping experience one would find at The difference is that the AmazonSmile foundation donates .5% of the purchase price of ‘eligible’ items to the charitable org of your choice.

Now, I am always a believer that SOME money raised is always better than NONE. Also, I actively participate in giving to my favorite non-profit via AmazonSmile when I remember to…

So, on the surface, all that our families, boosters, and community members need to do is to navigate to another Amazon URL to purchase items that they are already presumably buying. This is great for fundraising, right?

Not so fast….


Amazon’s Size May Work Against Your Org

The behavior of Amazon shopping is almost engrained at this point in millions of Americans every day. It’s almost “assumed” that every household has some sort of relationship with Amazon – or at least that where Jeff Bezos wants things to go.


Also consider the actual numbers.

In 2015, AmazonSmile Foundation donated $12.9 million – but Amazon made $99.1 Billion. The math suggests .00012% of sales, or $1.20 in donations for every $10K in sales.

Just to compare other entities – WalMart Foundation donated $166 million in 2015, and Microsoft donated about $500 million in 2016.

There are some critics that feel that the Smile program is just marketing, but smartly dressed-up as charity.


Here are some things to remember about how you may leverage AmazonSmile
  • I remember to head to AmazonSmile about 50% of the time. Amazon has opted not to link your Smile account to your log-in, so mobile and tablet devices running the Amazon App won’t typically be “Smile” purchases.
  • There also becomes a group mindset that “Everyone that is doing this for our (performing) org means that the funds are just coming in like crazy…” This group-mindset sometimes creates a “that’s good enough” from a giving standpoint, and this prevailing attitude can erode the quality of your other fundraising efforts.
  • Amazon makes it a little HARDER to use Smile, not easier. Why would they do this when user experience and buyer behavior is so well-researched by Amazon? No apps? No default to link to an account? 
  • There is evidence, and a school-of-thought, that AmazonSmile actually surpresses donor behavior since people feel that “they’ve already given enough” through their purchases (they actually don’t know that the percentage is .5% – and in the aggregate it’s easy to percieve it as much more).

I recently heard about a faith-based org that decided to really promote their newly-established AmazonSmile effort. They printed fliers and made advertisements (using church-office resources and staff). At the end of a year, their Smile contribution was smaller than originally thought (very difficult to track, by the way), but when you factor in printing, postage, hourly work and other resources – it ended up being a loss.

Be sure to clarify to your organization’s stakeholders that the Smile program should augement your giving program and not replace it, along with the rest of the fundraising that you do. Keep a realistic view of what the point is supposed to be, and encourage your members, families, and community to support the org on multiple levels – not just with their online shopping habits.


 UPDATE – 3/3/18

Just out of curiousity I just checked my AmazonSmile amounts. I’m a pretty heavy Amazon shopper, and over the past 3 years only 48 purchases have applied for a grand total of $13.29. Again, better than nothing, but your stakeholders probably have an overblown impression of the help that is ACTUALLY being generated.


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