The end of AmazonSmile is alarming, say the nonprofits that benefited

Amazon’s surprise decision to shut down its AmazonSmile donation program has left thousands of its nonprofit recipients disappointed and worried about finding ways to replace the funds.

The e-commerce giant launched AmazonSmile in 2013, contributing 0.5% of every purchase made by participating customers to the charity of their choice. As of 2022, the company said it has donated $449 million to various charities.

Before the program ends next month, Amazon says, it will provide a final donation to each of the more than 1 million nonprofits that have used AmazonSmile, equal to 25% of what the charity received from the program in 2022.

Some of the e-commerce giant’s competitors, including Walmart and Target, have community giving programs that look a bit like AmazonSmile.

But nonprofits say they’re disappointed.

Tenisha Taylor says she felt Amazon insulted her nonprofit’s work in the Chicago area by saying its program hadn’t had enough of an impact for its charitable recipients.

“You haven’t talked to me,” said Taylor, who founded the Ezekiel Taylor Foundation, which awards scholarships to Chicago black youth whose lives have been affected by gun violence. “You haven’t seen my bottom line impact from these bright young people I have walking campuses across the country.”

Taylor noted the stark disparity between the wealth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the small amounts used by nonprofits to try to make their communities healthier and safer.

“We are doing [Amazon] rich, we are,” Taylor said, referring to communities of color like hers. “At the very least, they can be good paying corporate citizens in the communities that patronize them.”

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

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

Taylor and other nonprofit founders say they’re angry Amazon didn’t give them advance warning about the end of the program. Many nonprofit organizations had promoted AmazonSmile in their fundraising campaigns because the program provided them with a passive income stream from Amazon customers.

Lauren Wagner, executive director of the Patchogue, New York-based Long Island Arts Alliance, said she had encouraged nonprofits she supports to sign up for AmazonSmile. She now, she’s concerned that her organization won’t know the identity of those customers and she wants Amazon to request permission to share that information with non-profit organizations.

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

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

“Many companies start their corporate community investment programs with what we would call a ‘confetti approach’: they give to everyone and everyone is really excited,” said Niedfeldt-Thomas. “Then, over time, we see companies move their strategic pillars to what we would call a ‘more focused approach.’ “

In its letter to customers, Amazon said it would “look for and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make a difference, from building affordable housing to providing access to computer education for students in underserved communities.”

Niedfeldt-Thomas said her coalition considers companies that donate more than 1% of their pre-tax profits to be “good corporate citizens.” According to Amazon’s 2021 financials, it donates much more than that. Malone said the company wants to focus its philanthropic work around its strengths, for example mobilizing large responses during disasters or distributing food aid.

Business coalition research for 2021 shows corporate giving was down slightly compared to 2020 as businesses accelerated contributions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Niedfeldt-Thomas said. He noted that the current economic climate, with concerns about inflation and recession, may also cause further decline.