Generosity Lessons from the Demise of AmazonSmile
February 20, 2023 |Scott Kubie
Amazon announced in January that it would shut down its AmazonSmile program, which allowed customers to designate 0.5% of eligible purchases to be donated to their favorite cause. It feels strange to glean generosity lessons from a massive corporation. Yet, there are three lessons individuals could learn from the demise of AmazonSmile.
1. Have a plan. Amazon’s giving was necessarily haphazard because it left the choice of where to give entirely up to its customers. There were over 1 million globally eligible organizations.[i] Amazon couldn’t partner effectively while serving many organizations and not knowing how much they would give.
Prayerfully consider what organizations you will give to when you do your budget. Put charitable donations in your budget and know what you plan to give. In addition to your regular giving, have a “success plan” where you allocate a more significant percentage of any bonuses or raises to charities. Having a plan frees those who have a hard time saying no. When asked to give money, you can quickly answer, “We’ve already made our charitable budget for the year.” It is an excellent way to say no without having to respond out of guilt.
2. Concentrate your giving. Amazon Smile has generated $500 million in gifts to charities since its 2013 inception. The average (perhaps median) charity received only $230. As Amazon noted in its press release, “…our ability to have an impact was often spread way too thin.”[ii]
Consider cutting back if you distribute your charitable dollars to too many charities. Your donations will have more impact if you focus on fewer organizations.
Are your gifts spread way too thin? Consider cutting back if you distribute your charitable dollars to too many charities. Your donations will have more impact if you focus on fewer organizations. My wife and I went through this process during the tax season after our wedding. We had so many receipts for small donations to organizations we wouldn’t support regularly. If no one in your family reads at least one-third of the updates from the charity, consider reallocating those gifts.
3. Give to organizations that engage with your passion, gifts, and experience. Amazon’s new approach targets areas where Amazon has particular expertise and employees can volunteer. Funding engineering education in underserved areas, delivering food, or providing disaster relief are better strategic fits for Amazon.
What organizations provide excellent opportunities for you to engage at multiple levels? Engaged giving, where you give more than just financially, will impact the organization significantly. It also has a significant potential to shape you more than giving only money. Giving, mixed with prayer and volunteering, can draw us closer to God and help us understand how God can use our love to change lives.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes to the Corinthian Church about being ready to provide their gift so that it can be given generously and not grudgingly. Hopefully, Amazon’s public discussion of its approach to charity can give you some ideas on giving with more joy and generosity.
Scott Kubie, CFA
[i] Amazon closing AmazonSmile to focus its philanthropic giving to programs with greater impact (aboutamazon.com)
[ii] Amazon discontinues AmazonSmile charity donation program amid cost cuts (cnbc.com)