What is Amazon Smile
Amazon has been bugging me to sign up for Amazon Smile recently and since I don’t respond well to pop-ups I’ve been x-ing out of them without reading what it was. The other day though, when I was failing in an attempt to sign-up for HBO Now (Still haven’t watched Game of Thrones :/), I read the pop-up and was intrigued. For every purchase I make Amazon will donate to the charity of my choice? Ok.
So I signed up.
Being that I had just attended Effective Altruism Global X: Boston (they should shorten that name) I had a few tools to help me decide which charity would be the best for Amazon to donate too.
I went straight over to GiveWells list of recommended Charities and found the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). AMF provides funding for long-lasting insecticide-treated bed net distributions in developing countries in order to help protect against Malaria. Pretty cool shit. You can read more about GiveWell’s reasoning for recommending them here.
Now I need to figure out if I can use them as a Charity. As I’ll mention later (or not), a charity has to sign up to Amazon Smile to be eligible for donatinos. Thankfully, Amazon has a database of Charities that you can search for and AMF was there!
So now what, and how exactly does this work? How much money will get donated?
It is time, I think, to find out.
What is Amazon Smile?
As stated on Amazon’s Website:
AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon that lets customers enjoy the same wide selection of products, low prices, and convenient shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com), the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organizations selected by customers.
So 0.5% of any purchase will go towards the Charity. That’s not a ton but Amazon also states that there is no extra cost for the Charity to sign-up, the customer to make a purchase or to the vendor. All funds come from the Amazon Foundation. If you spend $100 (through Amazon Smile), then 50 cents will be donated from Amazon to the AmazonSmile Foundation which will then be allocated towards your selected charity.
In my case the 50 cents will go toward the Against Malaria Foundation.
How Does it Work
When you first visit Amazon smile, Amazon will prompt you to select your charity just as it did with me.
You can use your existing Amazon account and, at least with my experience, will already be logged in.
For example, lets say you wanted to buy Peter Singer’s A Life You Can Save. The book costs $10.61 plus shipping (at the time of writing this) if you do not have Amazon Prime.
So $10.61 x 0.05% = $0.05305
Not a lot but not bad for clicking a link.
It’s important to remember that these donations are not tax deductible to you, they are made by Amazon. You’re not actually making a donation.
But is it a Good Idea
In a 2013 article on HuffPost by Brady Josephson titled Why Amazon Is Smiling and Charities May Be Losing, Brady goes into the down side of Amazon Smile.
Brady argues that consumer psychology could be hurting overall donations because by buying on amazon they will still get that good feeling that is had from donating to a charity.
That’s a problem because it heavily skews and distorts the consumer’s decision making process at charity’s expense. Social exchange theory, which has underpinnings in economics, psychology, sociology and philanthropy, proposes that in any transaction there is an exchange between two parties and parties will only enter into that transaction or exchange if the reward outweighs the cost. In the charity world these come into play around what charities can offer back to the donor in exchange for their gift which, absent some nominal “perks,” is in the form a tax receipt and a good feeling or “warm glow”. -Brady Josephson
He makes a good case. For every $10,000 purchased on Amazon Smile only $50 goes to Charity.
I think it’s safe to say that people who are familiar with Amazon Smile are likely to be people who would donate anyway. If we assume $100/person that gives us 100 people. Is it likely that 100 people would normally donate more than $50 (50 cents per person)? I think that it is very likely.
Even if we assume that each person is only donating $5 that’s still $500 in donations, a $450 difference that charities could be missing out on.
Brady continues with his argument saying that consumers are less likely to donate not just because they have donated through Amazon but because of the difference in cost from getting the feeling of donating.
Without a cost there is no actual exchange with the charity. Yet the charitable reward exists. So the question is if you’ve already received a reward, at no cost to you, are you more or less likely to give to a charity when the time comes?
While I don’t know the answer to that question I do find it to be a worthwhile thought.
Of course, this does not mean Amazon is doing anything bad. It’s a great move for them from a branding standpoint and they get to do some good in the world. On top of that, it may encourage people to spend more which, while probably no actually a good thing, is good for Amazon’s shareholders.
There are some great plugins for Chrome and Firefox that will make it so any amazon link redirects to Amazon Smile which if used could do a great job of helping those who don’t donate often to donate more.
It’s just important to keep in mind that these donations should not take away from any donations you have already budgeted for.
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