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Few frowns among Catholic nonprofits as AmazonSmile closes

In a Jan. 19 statement, Amazon said it would close AmazonSmile by Feb. 20 since the program's impact was "often spread too thin" among the more than 1 million registered organizations worldwide. (OSV News screenshot/Amazon Smile)

By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — Amazon’s decision to end a decade-long charity program is leaving a number of Catholic nonprofits unfazed, while serving as a prompt to reflect on their approach to fundraising.

On Jan. 19, the Seattle-based online retail giant announced it would end AmazonSmile, through which participating charities received 0.5% of supporters’ qualifying purchases. Since the program’s launch in 2013, payments — issued quarterly via electronic bank deposit — have totaled more than $400 million for U.S. charities and more than $449 million globally.

Despite those numbers, Amazon said in its statement that it would close AmazonSmile by Feb. 20 since the program’s impact was “often spread too thin” among the more than 1 million registered organizations worldwide.

On its website, Curé of Ars Catholic School in Leawood, Kansas, reported receiving a $445 check from AmazonSmile in March 2022.

Trudy Rocks, tuition officer of Presentation B.V.M. Catholic School in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania told OSV News that over the past two years, her school “didn’t make a killing with (AmazonSmile), although it certainly helped.”

At the same time, Rocks, who registered Presentation B.V.M. for the program two years ago, said she and her colleagues were not panicking over the closure. The school signed up for AmazonSmile with only modest expectations.

“Every little bit helps,” said Rocks.

Dominican Sister Joseph Maria, prioress of the monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, put her community’s monthly AmazonSmile amount at “under $100.”

When a benefactor recently suggested trying to get more donors to make use of AmazonSmile for the monastery, Sister Joseph Maria was skeptical.

“My reaction was, ‘OK, that’s fine, but it’s not going to affect us much, and it’s not going to get us more revenue,'” she told OSV News.

Staff at two parishes — St. Joseph, Husband of Mary in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sacred Heart Parish in Trenton, New Jersey — told OSV News they did not even know their respective parishes appeared in the online list of AmazonSmile recipients.

“We just opened up a business Amazon account, but we don’t participate in the program,” said St. Joseph finance director Kathleen Roldan, who was unaware of the AmazonSmile designation until contacted by OSV News.

The lack of panic over Amazon’s announcement squares with data observed by Emily Gambino, chief partner development officer of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia.

“The organizations that we’ve worked with have received less than $100 a year from AmazonSmile,” said Gambino in an emailed statement. “Most nonprofits will not feel any major financial impact.”

CFGP president and CEO Sarah Hanley also noted the AmazonSmile site itself could be easily overlooked.

“You had to log in directly to AmazonSmile,” said Hanley. “If you just went in through the regular (Amazon) website, the purchase didn’t register (for the charity).”

Cory J. Howat, executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation in New Orleans and president of #iGiveCatholic organization, said Amazon’s announcement is a teaching moment for Catholic nonprofits.

AmazonSmile was more about “income, not philanthropy,” said Howat.

While the program offered nonprofits “an easy way” to bring in some extra revenue, ultimately the “end game was … to solidify Amazon’s market share,” rather than build “a mission-driven connection” between donors and the causes they support, he said.

And that is exactly what Catholic organizations need to create, said Howat.

“The church is completely full of loyal donors,” he said. “Have we put in enough time as a church to reach out to them and respond? Have you asked them, ‘What else would you dream of our parish doing, and would you take that to the next level through planned giving, sustainable fundraising and legacy building?'”

He added, “The fruit from that approach yields more funds than Amazon could ever give.”

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News.

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