Ending of AmazonSmile is worrying, says beneficiary nonprofit

Amazon’s unexpected decision Closing its AmazonSmile donation program Thousands of nonprofit beneficiaries have been disappointed and worried about finding alternative funding.

The e-commerce giant launched AmazonSmile in 2013, giving participating customers 0.5 percent of every purchase they make to a charity of their choice. Through 2022, the company says it has donated $449 million to various charities.

Amazon said it will make a final donation to each of the more than 1 million nonprofits that use AmazonSmile, equal to the donations the charity will receive from the program in 2022, before ending the program next month 25% of.

Some of the e-commerce giant’s competitors, including Walmart and Target, have their own community giving programs, somewhat similar to AmazonSmile.

But nonprofits said they were disappointed.

Tenisha Taylor said she felt Amazon had insulted the work of her Chicago-based nonprofit, saying its programs did not provide enough reach for its charitable beneficiaries.

“You didn’t talk to me,” said Taylor, who founded the Ezekiel Taylor Foundation, which provides scholarships to young black Chicagoans whose lives have been impacted by gun violence. “You don’t see the bottom line of my impact with these talented young people walking the campuses of this country.”

Taylor pointed to the huge gap between the wealth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the small amount of wealth that nonprofits use to make communities healthier and safer.

“We’re making this company (Amazon) rich — and we’re doing it,” Taylor said, referring to communities of color like hers. “At the very least, they can be good corporate citizens and thrive in the communities that patronize them.”

Company spokesman Patrick Malone said Amazon’s decision to end the program was part of a strategic shift to support larger initiatives such as its $2 billion donation to build affordable housing. After 10 years, he said, it was time to reevaluate the program. He said the move was not a criticism of the nonprofits he supports.

The company also recently announced it would cut 18,000 jobs and cut other the less profitable part of its business.

Taylor and other nonprofit founders said they were angry that Amazon had not warned them ahead of time that the program was ending. Many nonprofits promote AmazonSmile in their own fundraising appeals because the program provides them with a passive income stream from Amazon customers.

Lauren Wagner, executive director of the Long Island Arts Alliance in Patchogue, N.Y., said she encourages the nonprofits she supports to sign up for AmazonSmile. Now, she worries her organization doesn’t know the identities of those donors, and wants Amazon to seek permission to share that information with the nonprofit.

Malone said Amazon has notified customers of the program’s end and has no plans to share customer information with the nonprofit.

Wagner said she has contacted Amazon several times over the years with suggestions to improve the program. Her proposals included allowing users to donate without specifically visiting smile.amazon.com and offering the option to donate when shopping on the Amazon app, which the company eventually allowed.

“They certainly never heard any of the emails we sent, or they never investigated us,” she said. “They never got our input on how to make it more impactful.”

Adam Goldstein, a former Amazon employee, said he also doubted the company would be interested in improving the program. During his three years at Amazon, Goldstein said he helped nonprofits apply for donations, which he said was personally rewarding. But he wasn’t impressed by the company’s deep concern about giving back to the community.

“I just feel like it’s really just about Amazon’s bottom line, and charitable donations are just marketing fodder,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein, who went on to become a grant writer and now works on a job program in Seattle, said a senior marketing manager told him the program was created to encourage customers to buy directly from Amazon, rather than click through from Google. search the product. This saves Amazon from paying Google.

Malone said that was not true. AmazonSmile was launched to allow customers to donate directly to a charity of their choice, which he called a win-win, he said.

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of Chief Executives for Corporate Purposes, a business alliance that advises companies on social responsibility issues, said she was not surprised by Amazon’s decision to cancel the program.

“A lot of companies start their corporate community investment programs with what we call the ‘confetti approach’—they donate to everyone, and everyone is super excited,” says Niedfeldt-Thomas. “Then, over time, we’ve seen companies shift their strategic pillars to what we call a more ‘focused approach.'”

In a letter to customers, Amazon said it would “pursue and invest in other areas where we believe we can make meaningful change — from building affordable housing to providing computer science education to students in underserved communities.”

Niedfeldt-Thomas said her coalition considers companies that donate more than 1 percent of pretax profits to be “good corporate citizens.” According to Amazon’s 2021 financials, its giving is much more than that. Malone said the company wants to focus its philanthropic work around its strengths — for example, by mobilizing mass response or distributing food aid during disasters.

Niedfeldt-Thomas said the Business Alliance’s research for 2021 showed a slight drop in corporate giving compared with 2020, when companies accelerated donations to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The current economic environment, combined with inflation and recession fears, could also lead to further declines, she noted.

While some corporate giving has “flattened out,” Niedfeldt-Thomas said her coalition found that 58 percent of companies surveyed increased their overall community investment between 2019 and 2021, and 35 percent increased their budget by 25 percent. % above.

Walmart launched a community giving program called Spark Good last year, in addition to existing philanthropic efforts through store managers. The new program, Spark Good, like AmazonSmile, allows customers to choose which nonprofits they want to support when shopping online through Walmart and lets them buy from the nonprofit’s registry.

Unlike AmazonSmile, Spark Good doesn’t donate a portion of customer sales. Instead, it allows them to round payments to the nearest dollar.

Julie Gehrki, Walmart’s vice president of philanthropy, said Spark Good was designed with input from nonprofits, allowing them to engage with customers in ways that are relevant to their organizations.

“We started with the idea that we could help connect customers with issues they care about,” she said. “We can make their everyday shopping experience one that allows them to give back to the people they want, and overall it will make a big difference.”

Wagner and Taylor said they hope Amazon will revive the program. They say the small donations they receive from customers are always helpful.

Goldstein said that during his time at Amazon, he has often seen how valuable even the smallest donations can be to nonprofits.

“When Amazon says that’s not the impact we really want, I think the big question is: What impact do you want?” he said. “And what I’m hearing is that the impact on Amazon’s bottom line is not what they want.”

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