Nonprofits react to AmazonSmile charity shutdown Seattle

Amazon announced the end of its decades-long charity program, leaving charities that rely on corporate donations in dire straits.

SEATTLE – Amazon’s sudden decision to close the AmazonSmile donation program has left thousands of nonprofit beneficiaries frustrated and concerned about finding alternative funding sources.

The e-commerce giant launched AmazonSmile in 2013, donating 0.5% of each participating customer’s purchase to the charity of their choice. As of 2022, the company says it has donated $449 million to various charities.

Before the end of the program next month, Amazon said it will make a final donation to each of the more than 1 million nonprofits that have used AmazonSmile, equivalent to 25% of the amount that the organization receives. charity received from the program in 2022.

Some of the e-commerce giant’s competitors, including Walmart and Target, have their own crowdfunding programs that resemble AmazonSmile.

But nonprofits say they feel let down.

Tenisha Taylor said she feels Amazon insults her Chicago nonprofit’s work by saying its program isn’t delivering enough impact for the charity’s beneficiaries.

“You haven’t talked to me yet,” said Taylor, who founded the Ezekiel Taylor Foundation, which provides scholarships to young black people from Chicago whose lives have been affected by gun violence. . brilliant young men I’ve walked on campuses across the country.”

Taylor noted the large disparity between the wealth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the small amount of money that nonprofits use to try to make their communities healthier and safer.

“We are making this company (Amazon) rich – ourselves,” Taylor said, referring to communities of color like hers. “At the very least, they can be good corporate citizens to give back to the community that is sponsoring them.”

Patrick Malone, a spokesman for the company, said Amazon’s decision to end the program is part of a strategic shift to support initiatives that work at scale, such as donations. $2 billion to build affordable housing. After 10 years, he said, it’s time to reevaluate the program. He said the move was not a criticism of the nonprofits it supports.

The company also recently announced that it will lay off 18,000 employees and cut other less profitable parts of its business.

Taylor and other nonprofit founders say they’re angry that Amazon didn’t give them advance warning about the end of the program. Many nonprofits promote AmazonSmile in their own fundraising drives because the program provides them with a passive revenue stream from Amazon customers.

Lauren Wagner, executive director of Long Island Arts Alliance, which is based in Patchogue, New York, said she has encouraged the nonprofits she supports to sign up for AmazonSmile. Now, she worries that her organization doesn’t know the identities of those customers, and wants Amazon to get permission to share that information with nonprofits.

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

Wagner said she has contacted Amazon several times over the years to suggest improvements to the program. Among her recommendations were allowing users to donate without specifically visiting and providing the option to donate when shopping on the Amazon app, something the company eventually did allow.

“They definitely never heard any of the emails that were sent out or they never surveyed us,” she said.

A former Amazon employee, Adam Goldstein, said he also doubts the company’s level of interest in improving the program. Goldstein said that during his three years at Amazon, he helped nonprofits request donations, which he personally feels is commendable. But he doesn’t get the impression that the company cares deeply about giving back to the community.

“I just have a feeling that it’s really just Amazon profits and the charitable giving is fodder marketing,” says Goldstein.

Goldstein, who became a grant writer and now works for an employment initiative in Seattle, said a senior marketing executive said he created the program to encourage customers to buy. Shop directly from Amazon instead of clicking through from Google. Search product. That saved Amazon from paying Google fees.

Malone says that’s not true. He said AmazonSmile was launched to allow customers to donate directly to the charity of their choice, in what he calls a win-win.

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, chief executive officer of Executives for Corporate Purposes, a business alliance that advises companies on social responsibility issues, said she was not surprised by the decision to disqualify. quit Amazon’s program.

“A lot of companies start their business community investment programs with what we call the ‘paper flower approach’ – they give people and people real people,” says Niedfeldt-Thomas. excited. “Then, over time, we see companies shifting their strategic pillars to what we call a more ‘centralized approach’. “

In a letter to customers, Amazon said it will “pursue and invest in other areas where we see we can make meaningful change – from building affordable housing to providing human rights.” access to computer science education for students in underserved communities”.

Niedfeldt-Thomas said her union considers companies that donate more than 1% of their pre-tax profits as “good corporate citizens”. According to Amazon’s 2021 financial report, it donates more than that. Malone said the company wants to focus its philanthropy around its strengths — such as mobilizing large responders during disasters or distributing food aid.

Business alliance research for 2021 shows that corporate contributions have fallen slightly from 2020, as companies ramp up contributions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Niedfeldt-Thomas said. She noted that the current economic environment, with concerns about inflation and recession, could also trigger further deterioration.

Niedfeldt-Thomas says her coalition has found that 58% of companies surveyed have increased their total community investment between 2019 and 2021, and 35% of companies have increased their budgets by more than 25 %.

Walmart last year launched a crowdfunding program called Spark Good, in addition to existing charitable efforts directed through store managers. The new program, Spark Good, like AmazonSmile, allows customers to choose the nonprofit they want to support when shopping online with Walmart and allows them to make purchases from the nonprofit’s registry .

Unlike AmazonSmile, Spark Good does not give away a percentage of a customer’s sales. Instead, it allows them to round their payments to the nearest dollar.

Julie Gehrki, Walmart’s vice president of philanthropy, said that Spark Good was designed around the input of nonprofits and that allows them to interact with customers in ways that are relevant. fit their organization.

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

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

While working at Amazon, Goldstein said, he often sees how valuable 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 kind of impact do you want?” he say. “And what I’ve heard is, the impact on Amazon’s bottom line isn’t what they wanted.” Nonprofits react to AmazonSmile charity shutdown Seattle

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