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AmazonSmile: Shop 'Til You Drop and Feel Good About It

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Online shopping provides consumers an opportunity to shop 24-hours a day, 7 days a week -- and now they can "do good" around the clock.

Amazon, the Seattle-based online retailer, is making the next move in online giving. AmazonSmile launched in October 2013 as a philanthropic effort that allows consumers to benefit a charity of their choice through a donation of .5 percent of the purchase price -- and in some cases, an additional $5 donation to select charities.

Amazon is capitalizing on the growing trend of online donations that represent about 10 percent of total philanthropic giving as reported in The Network For Good Digital Giving Index. According to Blackbaud's The Next Generation of American Giving Report August 2013, online giving is growing. Among Generations X and Y, more donors report giving online than via postal mail in the past two years. As many Baby Boomers, the dominant giving cohort, say they give online (42 percent) as through the mail (40 percent). This is a change from 2010, when more Boomers were giving via direct mail.

AmazonSmile offers the same products, prices and services as Amazon, now with a social benefit -- to the charity and the consumer. The consumers feel good about supporting a charity -- so good that Amazon has seen a steady climb in profits. According to Amazon, they have donated millions of dollars to tens of thousands of charities across the country through AmazonSmile. It is very clever how AmazonSmile has hit two feel good, do good "birds" with one stone.

In March 2014, San Diego Futures Foundation (mission: to improve lives in San Diego County by making information technology available to its underserved populations) was approached to participate in AmazonSmile, receiving .5 percent and a $5 donation from each designated purchase.

The partnership with AmazonSmile raised $200 from SDFF's donor-consumers. Executive Director, Gary Knight, feels that the key to the success of philanthropic tools like AmazonSmile will require a shift in our giving culture: "It is about people changing habits and adopting this as a new, innovative model for donating to nonprofits."

Right now, the most popular way for donors to give online is through a charity's website giving page -- which accounts for 61 percent of all online donations according to The Network For Good Digital Giving Index.

Knight continues, "the Internet provides an around-the-clock shopping opportunity for consumers, but I am not sure these consumers have quite made the link between buying an item and making a social benefit if they use certain online retailers."

The upside is that the world's largest online retailer is blazing the path for consumer philanthropy.

Knight feels that "online and social media do a great job at identifying and raising his organization's profile -- but in terms fundraising, social media hasn't achieved a high level of return on donations." Research would agree with Knight. According to Blackbaud's The Next Generation of American Giving Report August 2013: six percent of donors overall have given by Facebook, Twitter, or another social medium. Younger donors are only slightly more likely to have done so -- eight percent of Generation Y and ten percent of Generation X say they have done this in the past two years.

An additional benefit of AmazonSmile is that it has the potential to boost overall corporate giving. Traditionally, corporations have not been philanthropic leaders. According to the Giving USA 2014 Report, corporations only account for five percent of all total philanthropic giving in the United States -- a drop in 1.9 percent from the previous year. Philanthropy has entered a new and digital age with Amazon leading the way.