For nonprofits, a solid fundraising strategy depends on sustainable revenue. The challenge, then, is to find ongoing fundraising methods that help bring in contributions between the big annual giving campaigns and events when donations tend to spike. Beginning in 2013, many organizations solved this problem by participating in AmazonSmile.
However, in January 2023, Amazon announced that it would be ending the Smile program a month later. This untimely statement left more than one million participating organizations wondering how they would make up the lost funds from the program.
If your nonprofit was impacted by AmazonSmile’s discontinuation, you’ve come to the right place! To help you figure out what next steps to take, this guide will cover several key topics related to the end of AmazonSmile, including:
- What Was AmazonSmile?
- Why Was AmazonSmile Discontinued?
- How Can Nonprofits Make Up Lost Funding from AmazonSmile?
- Featured AmazonSmile Alternative: ShopRaise
At ShopRaise, we work to empower nonprofits to fundraise sustainably, even when an expected revenue source falls through. Let’s get started with an overview of the Smile program and its impacts.
What Was AmazonSmile?
AmazonSmile was a program that Amazon launched in 2013 as one of its business philanthropy initiatives. It allowed shoppers to contribute to their favorite charitable causes simply by making everyday online purchases on Amazon at no additional cost to them or the organization they chose to support.
For nonprofits, AmazonSmile provided an easy, year-round method of bringing in unrestricted funding to supplement any area of their budget, particularly overhead expenses.
Of course, the program had some inherent disadvantages, such as its low commission rates—just 0.5% of each supporter’s purchase went back to the nonprofit. Shoppers could also only contribute through purchases made on Amazon.com, and nonprofits couldn’t view any participation data, making it impossible to thank supporters individually. However, AmazonSmile’s convenience as an ongoing, passive fundraiser made it a popular supplement to the annual fundraising efforts of organizations of all shapes and sizes.
Why Was AmazonSmile Discontinued?
According to an official press release by the online retailer, Amazon’s reasoning behind discontinuing the Smile program was that they felt like it spread their philanthropic impact too thin. Instead, the business plans to focus on other, more focused charitable initiatives, such as aiding in disaster relief and building affordable housing.
However, nonprofits quickly took to social media to share the impact AmazonSmile had on their individual efforts. Smaller organizations in particular relied heavily on the program’s funding to conduct their day-to-day operations, and the program’s discontinuation meant a key revenue source was no longer available to them.
The announcement also came in January, when most nonprofits had already finalized their operating budgets for the 2023 fiscal year. Combined with the quick turnaround, this timing made figuring out fundraising alternatives even more challenging. Amazon promised to pay out the equivalent of three months of program revenue to each participating nonprofit in addition to their 2023 earnings through February 20. However, the closure still left many organizations with a fundraising deficit for the remainder of the year.
How Can Nonprofits Make Up Lost Funding from AmazonSmile?
If your organization is among those affected by AmazonSmile’s discontinuation, the first thing to do is re-evaluate your budget. You can do this by following three basic steps:
- Calculate how much of your projected funding was lost. Subtract the revenue you brought in from AmazonSmile in January and February, as well as the three-month payout Amazon provided, from the total amount your organization predicted it would bring in through that funding source in 2023.
- Figure out your adjusted revenue total. Add up all of your funding sources, including the new amount for AmazonSmile, and note the final number.
- Determine your fundraising deficit. Lastly, compare your adjusted revenue total to your total projected expenses for the year. If you were able to budget for a surplus, your deficit may be minimal. But the closer your budget is to breaking even, the larger the deficit will likely be.
Once you know where your budget stands, the next step is to find alternative fundraising methods to make up the deficit from AmazonSmile’s discontinuation. Any reserve funds your organization might have can provide additional flexibility during this process, but it’s best not to rely too heavily on your savings for long-term financial health.
Here are some potential alternative fundraising ideas to help you get started:
- Crowdfunding. A crowdfunding campaign can be a great quick fix because it allows your organization to easily bring in a lot of donations in a short amount of time. You’ll likely want to look into a more sustainable revenue stream for the future, but if your fundraising deficit is large, a crowdfunding campaign can help cover this year’s expenses.
- Virtual events. Events often have a high ROI and can easily become annual fundraisers for your organization. Plus, if your nonprofit already uses an online event platform, your upfront costs will be lower than they would be for an in-person event. However, events still require a lot of planning and don’t share the advantage AmazonSmile had of providing steady, ongoing revenue.
- Matching gifts. Adding a matching gift tool to your online donation form can help you maximize the donations your supporters are already contributing year-round. The one challenge is that many donors aren’t aware that their employers might match their gifts, so you’ll need to invest time and resources into marketing this opportunity.
- Fundraising eCards. eCards are a creative way to spread the word about your mission, and in exchange for a supporter’s donation, they get the opportunity to send a digital greeting card to a friend or family member. However, since supporters will likely only send these cards when they have an occasion to do so, this revenue stream isn’t quite as continuous as AmazonSmile was.
- Branded merchandise sales. Many nonprofits and similar organizations open online stores to sell t-shirts, hats, beverage containers, magnets, and other gifts that feature their logo. In addition to knowing that all of the proceeds from their purchases go toward your mission, supporters will spread the word about your organization every time they use your products. The main drawback here is that these items often aren’t on supporters’ regular shopping lists, so they have to go a bit out of their way to contribute.
As you weigh the pros and cons of each potential alternative, keep in mind that AmazonSmile wasn’t the only program of its kind out there. The best, most sustainable alternative to AmazonSmile is to partner with a different online shopping fundraiser platform.
Featured AmazonSmile Alternative: ShopRaise
ShopRaise is a fundraising program that allows supporters to contribute to their favorite nonprofits by making everyday purchases. Rather than being owned by and limited to a single online retailer like AmazonSmile was, ShopRaise operates within a wide network of e-commerce businesses to provide even more opportunities to shop for a good cause.
How It Works
ShopRaise is free and easy to use for both organizations and supporters. Let’s walk through the steps to get started from both perspectives.
Organizations can access the power of online shopping fundraisers through ShopRaise by:
- Signing up for ShopRaise. The ShopRaise team will walk you through a simple onboarding process, answer any questions you may have, and handle all negotiations with retailers for you.
- Spreading the word. If your organization is switching to ShopRaise from AmazonSmile, you’ll need to make supporters aware of the change and provide instructions for downloading the app and browser extension. ShopRaise can help with this step by creating a branded landing page, flyers, email templates, and other marketing materials for your nonprofit.
- Tracking results. You’ll be able to view real-time data on your fundraiser through the ShopRaise platform, allowing you to thank your top supporters individually and hone your marketing strategy. To protect shoppers’ privacy, you’ll see just their names and fundraising totals—only the supporter will know exactly what items they purchased.
Once your organization is registered with ShopRaise, the actual running of the fundraiser is fairly hands-off. All you have to focus on is marketing and data analysis while you bring in contributions year-round!
Your organization’s supporters can get started with ShopRaise by:
- Downloading the ShopRaise app or browser extension. With both mobile and desktop support, shoppers can make purchases from any device.
- Shopping at participating retailers. Supporters can buy items at any of ShopRaise’s participating online retailers, allowing them to contribute through a variety of everyday purchases, from clothing to home goods to pet supplies.
- Your cause earns. A percentage of each sale is automatically given to the nonprofit of the supporter’s choice.
When participating in your organization’s online shopping fundraiser, supporters will pay the same prices and have access to the same discounts they normally would. The only difference is that they’ll use the ShopRaise app and browser extension to make their purchases. They can also be able to view their fundraising totals in the app, so they can see how their contributions add up over time to make a difference.
Benefits of ShopRaise as an Alternative to AmazonSmile
Although having participated in AmazonSmile makes ShopRaise an easy switch for your nonprofit and its supporters, ShopRaise offers several advantages that AmazonSmile didn’t provide, including:
- Higher commissions. While AmazonSmile only gave 0.5% of supporters’ purchase totals back to their chosen nonprofit, ShopRaise’s commission rates range from 3% to 10% depending on the retailer.
- Marketing support. Although communication is essential to a successful online shopping fundraiser, AmazonSmile didn’t create custom branded marketing materials for each participating organization, which ShopRaise will do at no cost.
- Data reporting. A common pain point for organizations participating in AmazonSmile was the inability to view data on their fundraisers. ShopRaise, meanwhile, offers a variety of easy-to-use data reporting tools.
- Increased versatility. Supporters can contribute through a wider range of online purchases through ShopRaise since the platform isn’t restricted to a single retailer. Plus, while AmazonSmile allowed nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and schools to participate, ShopRaise also provides fundraising solutions for sports teams and clubs.
ShopRaise has also recently added a new offering to the platform: gift card fundraising. The digital gift cards supporters can purchase from the ShopRaise Gift Card Store can be used for both online and in-person shopping, so every purchase can earn for your cause.
Wrapping Up: Additional Resources on AmazonSmile Alternatives
Although AmazonSmile’s untimely discontinuation in early 2023 impacted many nonprofits, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of alternative methods that organizations like yours can use to make up your fundraising deficit and establish new streams of sustainable revenue. If you want a solution that’s similar to AmazonSmile in its function but eliminates several of that program’s key pain points, look no further than ShopRaise!
For more information on alternatives to AmazonSmile, check out these resources:
- Shop for a Cause: How to Give Back While Shopping Online. Explore a variety of ways in which your supporters can turn their everyday shopping into charitable donations.
- Ethical Shopping | How to Change the World With Your Wallet. Dive deeper into what ethical shopping means and how it works.
- Online Shopping Fundraisers for Schools: How to Get Started. Nonprofits aren’t the only organizations impacted by AmazonSmile’s discontinuation. Learn how your school can launch an online shopping fundraiser as an alternative to AmazonSmile.