You still have last-minute gifts to buy for the holidays and for any number of valid reasons you head to that big box store in the ether: Amazon. But if you sign up at Smile.Amazon.com a half of a percent of the purchase price of selected items will be donated to your favorite charity, including hunting and Second Amendment friendly organizations.
I’m signed up to support The NRA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) which raises tax-deductible contributions in support of a wide range of firearm-related activities by the National Rifle Association and other groups that defend and foster law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Activities might include promoting firearm and hunting safety, enhancing marksmanship skills or educating the general public about firearms and their safe operation.
Any charity that is listed by GuideStar is eligible to register for participation. There are plenty of like-minded hunter-backed hunting and wildlife conservation organizations represented, from the Mule Deer Foundation to the National Wild Turkey Foundation and countless others, but since the NRA Foundation supports so many things that I feel are vital to our hunting and gun-owning community, that was my pick even before I began working for the NRA and its NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website.
Smile.Amazon offers the same products, for the most part, that Amazon does, though recurring orders are not eligible. If you are unsure if an item you’re considering is eligible, go to the details page and look for the AmazonSmile logo. (AmazonSmile Foundation is the 501(c)(3) and Smile.Amazon.com is the website.) Amazon donates all administrative costs, withdrawing nothing from actual donations. Terrific! Is there a catch?
A Few Snags, But No Big Catch There is no big catch. Essentially, AmazonSmile Foundation is making a $5 donation out of every $1,000 you spend on Smile.Amazon, not to its favored charity, but to yours! We are right to be cautious about how organizations use our money, but this isn’t our money; it’s Amazon’s. We’re being allowed to dictate where the donations go at no cost to us. Sweet! I did my research and in the end, having .5 percent of every dollar I spend through Smile.Amazon go to The NRA Foundation was all that mattered to me.
Here are some facts, though, to help you make your own decision. First, more and more online purchase are being conducted through phone and tablet and there is not an Smile.Amazon app. This has been a complaint since the site was launched in October 2013. There have been attempts, but they were cumbersome to use. What to do? Remove your Amazon app from your phone or tablet and enter the link in your browser. I use Safari. Then you can upload that link to your home screen. I’m not sure why Amazon doesn’t make it easier, but I’m not the boss of its decisions any more than it’s the boss of mine. However, I have noticed that when I’m on Amazon, I get a pop-up reminding me of where I am and asking if I’d like to make my purchase through Smile.Amazon. I appreciate that.
Second, you do not get any tax breaks because, again, you’re not donating. AmazonSmile Foundation is the donating organization, so if any breaks are to be had, AmazonSmile Foundation gets them. Smile.Amazon also gets a boatload of free advertising as every non-profit in the country plugs the site on its own website and in its social media efforts. (Only domestic non-profits are eligible.) Sometimes the effort and cost put in by smaller non-profits do not zero out when donation deposits are received. A non-profit has to be adept at marketing to make the venture pay off. In fact, the person at Amazon who devised the program is in charge of worldwide marketing for the retail giant. He’s a genius.
In addition to any tax write-offs and free marketing, Amazon receives praise for being an altruistic company and its customers get that feel-good experience, which only leads to increased sales. Customers tend to spend more when they know that a charity stands to benefit from the purchase.
Third, can you really make an impact when only $5 of every $1,000 you spend is going to your chosen cause? How much AmazonSmile Foundation chooses to donate is a decision that only it can make, and I for one am grateful for the opportunity to have the company take a percentage of its profits from what I spend and give it to my favorite charity. When I looked, I had accumulated $4.35 for The NRA Foundation—over a course of years. The brilliance of the program is that it makes you want to buy more from Smile.Amazon to up your numbers. According to the website, The NRA Foundation had received $118,007.72 in total since Smile.Amazon started. That’s an average of $23,601.54 per year. In 2016, the most recent year for which Form 990s are available, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital received $1.1 million through AmazonSmile Foundation, making it No. 1 on the list of recipients. The same report shows that The NRA Foundation had received $23,600.81, ranking it 28 on the list. The bottom line for smaller, less-visible non-profits is that they will need to keep expectations in check until they’ve built up their numbers of Smile.Amazon users.
When using a site like Smile.Amazon.com, if you get a pop-up that says that the donating organization cannot get in touch with your chosen charity, then by all means, reach out to that charity and have it rectify the issue. At Smile.Amazon.com, if payments cannot be made within two years, monies will be put into a general fund and distributed to other charities, perhaps ones that have missions with which you disagree.
The Less Cheery-and-Bright Side AmazonSmile Org Central states the following: “Organizations that engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities are not eligible to participate. Amazon relies on the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to determine which registered charities fall into these groups.” The SPLC is not a Second Amendment Friendly organization, often painting anything Constitutional as “extreme right wing.” It bothers me that AmazonSmile Foundation uses it as a resource.
Smile.Amazon also spotlights certain organizations on its website. These organizations frequently do very well with the added plug. Amazon states that it does not endorse any one charity, but clearly these featured organizations get a leg up on lesser-known charities.
In addition, there is no collection of demographic data for the participating non-profits. They can’t even send a thank you, never mind use such information to tailor their message to reach more donors. If you truly care about your favored charity, make it official and get on its email list.
Finally, a danger exists that the consumer may feel like he or she has already given and so therefore won’t make a donation directly to a chosen charity. Obviously, The NRA Foundation would have been better off if I’d sent them even $5 a year in addition to the Smile.Amazon donations they received through my purchases. Still, all those pennies add up and I’m glad that smaller donors like me have an opportunity to contribute to what can grow into a sizable donation with the help of my fellow pro-hunting and -Second Amendment shoppers.
Additional Options I also am signed up with iGive, also to benefit The NRA Foundation. Here you can shop at specific store websites and have larger percentages of your purchase prices go to your charity. The problem is, remembering to use the site. For instance, I needed ink for my printer and could have used 123inkjets through iGive and had six percent go to The NRA Foundation. You can add a button to your browser that will indicate—using the iGive dandelion seed logo—if that online store is registered with iGive. Each participating site offers a different percentage and occasionally offers higher percentages during promotions. You can also add your favorite shops to your My Stores page.
It’s Your Cheerful Choice No matter where we go nowadays, from burger joints to clothing retailers, we’re being asked to donate at the register. It’s a constant barrage. It’s up to you what you give and when. The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 9:7:
“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (New Living Translation)