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Should you use AmazonSmile for online shopping?

Donate a portion of your next online purchase to charity

Summary

AmazonSmile lets you donate to the charity of your choice through the purchases you’re already making. Here’s what shoppers and charities need to know about participating in the program.

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Americans donated nearly $450 billion to U.S. charities in 2019, making it one of the best years on record for charitable giving. And despite economic uncertainty and high unemployment rates due to the coronavirus pandemic, that spirit of giving hasn’t let up in 2020.

According to Fidelity Charitable, donations to human services organizations (such as food banks) “skyrocketed” in the first four months of 2020, even as donors continued giving normally to nonprofits in other sectors, including arts and education.

If you, too, think it’s “better to give than to receive,” AmazonSmile could be a quick and easy way to immediately increase your charitable giving, one Amazon purchase at a time. Here’s what you need to know.

See related: How to donate unused rewards miles and points

What is AmazonSmile?

AmazonSmile is essentially a cloned version of the Amazon.com most of us know, with one big difference: A portion of every eligible purchase you make through AmazonSmile is donated to the nonprofit organization of your choice.

Although the donated percentage is small (0.5%), every little bit adds up. Since first launching in 2013, AmazonSmile has supported hundreds of thousands of charities across a variety of causes to the tune of more than $183 million.

If you already donate to a charity you love, shopping through AmazonSmile probably won’t replace your usual giving levels – but it can be a great way to supplement your existing efforts every time you click order.

How does AmazonSmile work?

Whether you’re an Amazon superfan who wants to give back through the purchases you already make or a charitable organization in need of additional financial support, getting started with AmazonSmile is simple. Here’s how to do it.

Supporting a new or favorite charity starts with visiting the right URL.

Instead of navigating directly to Amazon.com when it’s time to buy, desktop users need only type in smile.amazon.com to ensure their purchases will generate an AmazonSmile donation. If you usually shop from an iOS or Android device, open the Amazon shopping app, scroll down to “Settings” in the main menu, and click “AmazonSmile” to turn on this feature. (Note: If you’re an iOS user, you’ll have to turn on push notifications if you want to shop AmazonSmile from the app.)

Once you’ve activated AmazonSmile in your account settings, it’s time to pick a charity.

With nearly 1 million 501(c)(3) organizations currently registered with the AmazonSmile program, you can find everything from national organizations (such as Feeding America and the Equal Justice Initiative) to smaller charities based right in your own community.

You can choose one of AmazonSmile’s spotlight charities, search for a specific nonprofit or simply type in the kind of programming you want to support – dance, for instance – to see a list of related organizations.

After you select a charity, every eligible AmazonSmile order you place will generate a donation equal to 0.5% of the purchase price – the sale price of the item, minus shipping and handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes and other service charges. (Donations aren’t made for returned items.) You can pick a new charity whenever you like, as well as opt out of AmazonSmile in your web browser or Amazon shopping app at any time.

Does AmazonSmile cost more?

Other than turning on AmazonSmile in your account settings and choosing a charity, the experience of shopping through AmazonSmile is the same as shopping on Amazon the regular way. You’ll see the same prices, the same products and the same expedited shipping options (if you’re an Amazon Prime member, that is).

Which purchases are eligible?

Qualifying items are marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product pages. Here’s what that looks like:

Unfortunately, recurring subscribe-and-save orders and subscription renewals don’t qualify for AmazonSmile.

Can you use cash back or rebate apps with AmazonSmile?

Cash back or rebate apps like Ibotta and Rakuten likely can’t be used with AmazonSmile.

Such apps work by creating an electronic link between themselves and the retailer. When you click an Amazon offer or coupon in one of these apps, you’re redirected to a specific webpage from which to complete your purchase. By adding “smile” to the beginning of that automatically generated URL, you break the link between the app and Amazon, which means your purchase won’t qualify for the cash back or rebate offer.

What percentage do charities receive?

Charities receive 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible items ordered by customers who selected that organization upon their AmazonSmile enrollment. The “purchase price” is the sale price of the items, minus shipping and handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes and other service charges.

Pros and cons of using AmazonSmile

Although it might seem that charitable giving programs such as AmazonSmile would have little downside, that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s what shoppers and charities should consider before taking the plunge.

For shoppers

Pros

  • Automatically donate to charity through purchases you’re already making, with no extra cost.
  • Nominate your favorite charity to receive donations. If it’s eligible, AmazonSmile will contact them directly about registering.
  • AmazonSmile Charity Lists provide another worry-free way to give back by donating specific items to verified organizations that have requested them.

Cons

  • If you shop Amazon online but forget to add “smile” to the beginning of the URL, your purchases won’t generate a donation. (Tip: Bookmark the AmazonSmile website in your browser, and always check for the AmazonSmile logo before you finalize a purchase.)
  • Because donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation, your contributions aren’t tax deductible.

For charities

Pros

  • There is no cost to participate in AmazonSmile, and no administrative fees are deducted from the donations you receive.
  • Create a Charity List to request specific items your charity needs.
  • Apply for consideration as a spotlight charity to potentially increase the number of shoppers who select your organization in AmazonSmile.

Cons

  • Amazon doesn’t actively advertise AmazonSmile, which can make it difficult for new donors to find and support your organization through the program.
  • Because charities receive just 0.5% of eligible AmazonSmile purchases, participation is unlikely to result in sizable financial support, especially in the short term.
  • Quarterly donation amounts can be reduced due to returns of previous purchases.
  • AmazonSmile does not provide reports that let you view your donations.

Best credit cards to use for AmazonSmile

If you want to earn credit card rewards while you support your favorite charity, you’ll probably want to use one of the best credit cards for Amazon.com purchases. The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card (for non-Prime members) and Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card are two obvious choices.

But depending on the time of year and what you’re shopping for, some of the best cash back credit cards – including those that offer bonus rewards in categories that rotate quarterly – might put more money back in your pocket, thereby allowing you to up your charitable contributions, whether through AmazonSmile or other means.

See related: How to maximize your cash back on Amazon.com

If you don’t want the added hassle of tracking bonus categories or remembering which credit card is best for a particular purchase, stick with one of the co-branded Amazon cards.

Best credit cards to use for charitable giving

Although charity-focused credit cards do exist, we’re not aware of any that are specific to the AmazonSmile program. That said, there are several other ways to use credit cards to boost your charitable giving, including donating unused points and miles or setting aside a portion of your annual cash back for a direct donation.

Final thoughts

It’s both natural and perfectly acceptable to tighten your purse strings amid economic uncertainty, especially if your employment or income has been affected. But if you remain financially secure and can afford to offer support, AmazonSmile is an easy way to augment your usual charitable giving during a time that many organizations are struggling to meet growing needs.

“While giving varies from crisis to crisis, research demonstrates that, overall, Americans are generous, even in personally difficult times,” USA Today’s Una Osili and Patrick M. Rooney wrote in June.

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of that generosity, that’s certainly something to smile about.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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