Get what you deserve when you give

I've been on a bit of break from my years of pointing out the foibles of #embeddedgiving - or what the industry calls cause marketing. Two things bring it back to my attention:

1. Amazon's gotten into the game. This is huge because Amazon is, well, Amazonian. Earlier this week the online retailing behemoth announced that it's AmazonSmile program would let shoppers donate 0.5% of their purchase price to the charities of their choice. That's nice. But why don't they just give you the discount, let you donate the money to the charity of your choice, and let you keep the warm glow, credit, and tax break for yourself? By funneling it through Amazon are you making your life easier or are you just letting Amazon take credit for your largess?

Why do you need an intermediary to give away your money? Just about any organization you want to support has a Donate Now button of their own.

When you take Amazon up on its 0.5% donation, guess who gets credit for the donation? Amazon. Credit for your spending your money. Hmmm. And the costs Amazon incurs to run this program? Where do you think they'll show up and to whom will they be passed on? What an irony  - call it a discount, take all the credit, and pass on any additional costs for running the program to customers somewhere else. This is what really happens with embedded giving.

2. Breast cancer awareness fatigue. Finally, this has been building for years and the pink-ization of everything is finally getting some of the backlash it's long deserved. See this article in The Guardian for a well-written commentary, there are many, many others.

Embedded giving runs directly counter to efforts to build strategic and effective philanthropy and more accountable nonprofits. It puts intermediaries where none are needed, complicates (if not obfuscates) feedback mechanisms, and is almost entirely unaccounted for and unaccountable.

Please, this holiday season, give. If you want to be part of something, be part of #GivingTuesday. But get what's yours when you give by giving directly to the organizations of your choice.


jshawnl said...

Lucy, while of course I've signed up for my own organization, nevertheless I'm not sure you need to worry since the Amazon Smile program participation agreement actually bans people from talking it up: "You may not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities on behalf of us or our affiliates, or in connection with the AmazonSmile Site or the Program, in any offline manner, such as in any email or attachment to email, printed material, mailing, or other document, or any oral solicitation."

Unknown said...

I'm not sure I understand your point. If I buy at, I pay the same price as at The first generates no donation, the second does. Why would I not choose the latter?

Lucy Bernholz said...

If you're making this choice purely as a purchasing decision, that's one thing - and that's what Amazon facilitates. If you think of these pennies as part of your charitable "wallet" then these are pennies poorly spent.

JC said...

For what it's worth, as a nonprofit we also appreciate when you give directly because it allows us to recognize our true donors directly, and have an opportunity to keep you updated on the impact of your donation.

Kudos Lucy on the blog. Longtime lurker commenting for the first time!

brad smith said...

Not sure I agree with you 100% on this one. My guess is that people who use the Amazon Smile program will keep on making whatever direct charitable contributions they did before while .05% of their Amazon purchases also go to charity. Any way you look at it this is good for nonprofits. .05% of an individual's purchase on Amazon is a tiny amount, but with the incredible volume Amazon has, the aggregate value could be overwhelming....if people use it. This is micro philanthropy on a mega scale.

Melinda said...

I have been wondering, too, if there isn't a connection between this embedded giving (especially in the pink arena) and non-giving giving, like with the no-shave November thing, where I really can't tell if people understand that that isn't actually doing anything to fight cancer at all. Maybe I'm just fatigued and frustrated with the 'pinkwashing', but it seems like there could be a bleed effect, where the slippery slope of distancing people from the impact of their giving, and making it as 'painless' as possible, can sort of trick us into thinking that giving is really...nothing?