Fundraising’s New Entrant: AmazonSmile

Amazon Christmas Presents

Probably coming to a holiday near you soon, yes? via Michael Lehenbauer

Allyson Kapin wrote a great article recently about why “viral” is a dirty word. If you haven’t read it, you should because it’s a thorough reality check for strategists and clients alike. And the thing I appreciated most is about the way “viral” gets used without any real understanding of what it means, or what is involved. Frankly, it’s like that for a lot of things in a lot of industries – ergo, this ramblation, which is about nonprofit fundraising, where Kickstarter is the new viral.

As some of you know, one of my favorite clients, the Vienna Choral Society, hired me over the summer to be a part-time executive producer. I could not be happier about the progression from consultant to executive producer. Of course, because it is a non-profit, one of my many challenges at VCS is fundraising. And at least once a month someone will ask me why we don’t “just start a Kickstarter project for the choir!” Well, for starters, it doesn’t apply. Because as fundraisers will tell you, it’s not just about raising money, it’s about HOW you raise money.  

At VCS we have all the usual fundraising mechanisms and revenue streams: grants, membership dues, ticket sales, season tickets, the CFC, and in the last couple of years, Razoo, and this year #GivingTuesday. (Full disclosure, I happen to write for Razoo’s blog “Inspiring Generosity,” which is how I knew it was an appropriate avenue for the choir.) And then of course there are the bigger fish – sponsorships, corporate donations, advertisers. But here is the conversation I have had at least once a month since I came on board:

Singer: “Why aren’t we doing a Kickstarter?

Me: “Because that’s for a project with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t pay for operating expenses.”

Singer: “Oh.”

Me: “Also, if we don’t make our goal or project, we have to return all the money. The funds we get through Razoo or something like GoFundMe? We keep it even if we don’t make our goal.”

Singer. “Oh!”

imgres-1And now, I see a new conversation about to begin because non-profits have one more option in the mix – AmazonSmile. This is not to be confused with the affiliate program (which I confess I never could see being a good fit for VCS , because I don’t think the audience wants to be anyone’s business-like affiliate, they just want to hear and support good music). Instead, AmazonSmile is the online behemoth’s new .org focused giving arm. Of course, I’ve opened up an account for the choir, and as I put it on VCS’ social media upon launching the non-profit’s account: Amazon Smile is where “you do your thing, so we can do ours.”

But you notice I said social media, not email (which is far from dead). Why? Because marketing through email is against AmazonSmile’s terms of service.

Nope. Not kidding. The participation agreement says and I quote:

  • You may not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities on behalf of us or our affiliates, or in connection with the AmazonSmile Site or the Program, in any offline manner, such as in any email or attachment to email, printed material, mailing, or other document, or any oral solicitation.

Furthermore, unlike most charitable giving, your donation through AmazonSmile is not tax deductible. Because it’s not you who’s giving the donation, it’s Amazon. You’re simply allowing Amazon to give a small bit of your dollars to a charitable cause of your choosing. And it’s small – .5% of the purchase price of an eligible purchase – or 50 cents per $100.

The tax angle is clear enough to me – and Amazon’s certainly making it clear that “you shop, Amazon gives.” But I see a lot of massaging of messaging and careful use of the words “donation” and “non profit” and “charity” in the future for organizations who want to use AmazonSmile. Simply because the public is so used to a tax deduction for any kind of charitable interaction with a non-profit.

And all of this for a few cumulative dollars that may not be worth every non-profit’s time or personnel-stretched efforts.

Still, I suspect a lot of non-profits will join AmazonSmile as VCS did, and make it the new non-profit fundraising world’s viral. And why not? Once you set things in motion, the cumulative donation at the end of the year could well add up for even a small non-profit with a dedicated audience. And it’s just smart to diversify your revenue streams. Those who do not join? They can probably expect to have conversations like the kind I have about why we haven’t used Kickstarter yet.

And yes, I have already picked VCS as my organization to support through AmazonSmile. Of course I did! Although that said, I have given to several causes in the last month, including two that have no tax deduction whatsoever, and with whom I have no prior relationship of any sort. Why? Because I thought they were simply awesome. Because that, as Kapin and any fundraiser or strategist will tell you, is why people ultimately give.