Amazon Smile CANCELLED (in other news, the sun will set in the west tonight)

Just got the email. You may have too.

Amazon Smile — the program that allows Amazon shoppers to designate their “Favorite charity” to receive half a percent of what they spend on Amazon — is about to end after ten years. The end is this coming February 20.

Most likely this is small and unimportant news to you. If it’s a big deal, my condolences. I wish you the best at finding a replacement revenue source.

And this is where I can’t stop myself saying, I told you so.

Because I (and many others) did.

It was inevitable that Amazon Smile would end. Amazon is a business. Everything they do needs to make business sense. It seems Amazon Smile made enough sense to last for a decade. Until it didn’t any more.

As their email put it:

… we learned that with so many eligible organizations — more than 1 million globally — our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin…. Amazon can have a more significant and lasting impact if we invest in specific areas and focus our philanthropic efforts …

I can just picture someone in some Seattle back-office sending out hundreds of thousands of checks for under $50.

So they stopped. Regardless of the impact their decision might have on their nonprofit partners.

It was their right — their responsibility — to do what made sense for their own goals.

The good news is that for most participants, the revenue lost will be unimportant.

But I think there’s a lesson for nonprofits to learn from this, and I blogged about it back in 2019, at Should you bother with Amazon Smile?

My point then (and now) was that fundraisers should take a careful look at “free money” deals like Amazon Smile.

Because they aren’t free.

In the best of situations, these schemes cost time to make them work at all — opportunity cost. And often, though not in the case of Amazon Smile, they also cost actual money.

That .5% rebate meant when the donors who went to the trouble to designate you as their favorite spent $10,000 on Amazon, you’d get $50.

To make the revenue scale up to a meaningful number would take not just a large list of donors, but a meaningful effort to reach out to donors and get them to do what it took for you to get that .5%.

And while you were doing that, what other more dependable revenue-generating activities were you not doing?

As I noted back then, “I bet you’d get there faster standing on the sidewalk with a tin cup.”

So next time one of those generous “free money for nonprofits” deals comes your way, remember to count the cost of being involved. Including the time spent.

And remember, the whole thing can (and will) eventually disappear with nothing more than a polite email.


Comments

2 responses to “Amazon Smile CANCELLED (in other news, the sun will set in the west tonight)”

  1. I agree, but not entirely. AmazonSmile was mostly a classic example of the rich getting richer.

    Having tracked the performance of multiple orgs over several years, there were indeed many that any effort invested was not worth the return. But, there was also a sizeable segment that received several million dollars a year from the program. Ironically, they were mostly groups that did not appear to invest much or any effort into promoting AmazonSmile. Their windfall can primarily be credited to their brand awareness. So orgs that already raise fantastic amounts, got some pretty fantastic benefits from AmazonSmile, with little effort (and I would argue was “free” for them) . And smaller groups likely wasted time and effort pushing what resulted in little benefit.

    What has always challenged and interested me are the exceptions. My tracking revealed several smaller orgs who punched way, way above their weight, raising several hundred thousand a year. This was totally out of proportion to their annual revenues.

  2. I agree, but not entirely. AmazonSmile was mostly a classic example of the rich getting richer.

    Having tracked the performance of multiple orgs over several years, there were indeed many that any effort invested was not worth the return. But, there was also a sizeable segment that received several million dollars a year from the program. Ironically, they were mostly groups that did not appear to invest much or any effort into promoting AmazonSmile. Their windfall can primarily be credited to their brand awareness. So orgs that already raise fantastic amounts, got some pretty fantastic benefits from AmazonSmile, with little effort (and I would argue was “free” for them) . And smaller groups likely wasted time and effort pushing what resulted in little benefit.

    What has always challenged and interested me are the exceptions. My tracking revealed several smaller orgs who punched way, way above their weight, raising several hundred thousand a year. This was totally out of proportion to their annual revenues.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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