Quick tips: Are you missing out on money Amazon owes you?

I’ve never talked about them on this blog, but I’m generally rather sour on most of the internet programs that get your supporters to use their site as a portal for searching or shopping (or whatever – there are so many variations).  For the fractions of cents that you get from each search or purchase, you have to do a LOT of supporter education, and then keep it up…

But it’s free, my clients say, and it’s a way to ask people to DO something for us instead of asking them for money.  Well, there might be cases where it makes sense, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.  The folks getting excited about these programs (iGive, goodsearch, etc. – I’m not linking because I don’t really recommend them) are almost always smaller local places who need more money than their small pool of donors is providing.  The promise is so very tantalizing.

I make them crunch the numbers, to tell me if it’s worth it to them.  How much time and newsletter real estate (you’ve only got room for X bulletpoints on that printed front page) and email opens will you spend on getting the word out?  How many people do you think will participate?  How much do you think each of those people will earn for you on average?  Does that equation balance in your favor?

And then, if that first level of analysis hasn’t soured you, it’s time to figure in opportunity cost.  All of that staff time, newsletter inclusion and targeted emails, etc., isn’t just worth its own face value – if you spend those same resources asking directly for donations, what would you expect to get from your supporters?  (Hint – that’s almost always more than what you expect from these internet programs.)

I worked with an organization that felt they were very successful with iGive.  They received about $15 a year.  And to get that, they talked about the program in every newsletter (printed and sent online), did a separate reminder email at least once a year, and handed out printed cards at community festivals year-round.   The volunteers who put in all the work felt great – they made actual money materialize from nothing…unfortunately, that view was far from accurate.

This time of year though, there are a lot of folks doing extensive holiday shopping on the internet.  Cyber Monday is coming up in less than a week.  And I’ve just heard about a new program…Amazon Smile.

The program is very similar to others – .5% of purchases will be donated.  That’s 50 cents for every $100 spent by your supporters.  That’s not going to solve any of your financial woes.  And your supporters have to jump through some specific hoops if you’re going to get even that little bit of pocket change:

  • Start shopping at smile.amazon.com
  • Select your organization from a list of thousands (every 501c3 in the US is eligible…are your supporters willing to sort through all of those, and to get your name exactly right?)
  • Purchase eligible items
  • Remember to repeat every time they shop

But, there are a few things that set this program apart.

  • It’s Amazon.  That adds name recognition, trustworthiness, and some “oomph” behind it.  And the shopping experience is Amazon…which most people participate in already.  You’re not asking for people to really change their habits, just their starting page.
  • Amazon is promoting this program to improve their own image.  They may not wind up getting too far, but I wouldn’t bet against them.  Your supporters may hear about this on their own, which means your job isn’t to get them on board, it’s to get them to send their donations to YOU.
  • Amazon is minimizing the insanity that afflict some organizations when they chase after low-yield prospects like this program – they don’t let you promote the program through email or offline marketing.  They’ll provide banners for your website, links, and widgets for most social media platforms, but that’s it.

Bottomline, I’m advising my clients to register with AmazonSmile.  You should too.  The biggest catch is that people can select your organization right now, as long as you’re listed on Guidestar (which you should be if your 501c3 has going through…if you are a chapter of a national organization, things may get complicated)…but if you don’t register, you won’t get paid, and any donations earmarked for you will be redistributed.

Go register.  Here’s the info you need.  And then you can decide later whether or not you want to try and mobilize your supporters to participate on your behalf (though at this time of year, I wouldn’t wait too long to decide how you want to proceed…there’s a lot of money being spent online in the next month.  If you’re going to publicize your participation in the program, now is the time.)

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