I just received the following email. There's also a notice up on their website. Since many folks here use AmazonSmile to make additional donations to charities, thought folks should know.

Dear customer,

In 2013, we launched AmazonSmile to make it easier for customers to support their favorite charities. However, after almost a decade, the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped. With so many eligible organizations—more than 1 million globally—our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin.

We are writing to let you know that we plan to wind down AmazonSmile by February 20, 2023. We will continue to pursue and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make meaningful change—from building affordable housing to providing access to computer science education for students in underserved communities to using our logistics infrastructure and technology to assist broad communities impacted by natural disasters.

To help charities that have been a part of the AmazonSmile program with this transition, we will be providing them with a one-time donation equivalent to three months of what they earned in 2022 through the program, and they will also be able to accrue additional donations until the program officially closes in February. Once AmazonSmile closes, charities will still be able to seek support from Amazon customers by creating their own wish lists.

As a company, we will continue supporting a wide range of other programs that help thousands of charities and communities across the U.S. For instance:
 

  • Housing Equity Fund: We’re investing $2 billion to build and preserve affordable housing in our hometown communities. In just two years, we’ve provided funding to create more than 14,000 affordable homes—and we expect to build at least 6,000 more in the coming months. These units will host more than 18,000 moderate- to low-income families, many of them with children. In one year alone, our investments have been able to increase the affordable housing stock in communities like Bellevue, Washington and Arlington, Virginia by at least 20%.
  • Amazon Future Engineer: We’ve funded computer science curriculum for more than 600,000 students across over 5,000 schools—all in underserved communities. We have plans to reach an additional 1 million students this year. We’ve also provided immediate assistance to 55,000 students in our hometown communities by giving them warm clothes for the winter, food, and school supplies.
  • Community Delivery Program: We’ve partnered with food banks in 35 U.S. cities to deliver more than 23 million meals, using our logistics infrastructure to help families in need access healthy food – and we plan to deliver 12 million more meals this year alone. In addition to our delivery services, we’ve also donated 30 million meals in communities across the country.
  • Amazon Disaster Relief: We’re using our logistics capabilities, inventory, and cloud technology to provide fast aid to communities affected by natural disasters. For example, we’ve created a Disaster Relief Hub in Atlanta with more than 1 million relief items ready for deployment, our Disaster Relief team has responded to more than 95 natural disasters, and we’ve donated more than 20 million relief products to nonprofits assisting communities on the ground.
  • Community Giving: We support hundreds of local nonprofits doing meaningful work in cities where our employees and their families live. For example, each year we donate hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations working to build stronger communities, from youth sport leagues, to local community colleges, to shelters for families experiencing homelessness.

We’ll continue working to make a difference in many ways, and our long-term commitment to our communities remains the same—we’re determined to do every day better for our customers, our employees, and the world at large.

Thank you for being an Amazon customer.

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Their 2018 Form 990 (but not their 2019 one) lists every charity they donated to, and how much, starting on p19.

The first EA charity is MIRI at #37 with $33k. The next is AMF at #59 with $19k.

Wow, they gave to a LOT of charities - I make it >260,000! (~2100 pages *125/page). Many thousands of charities only getting $5 (and over half getting <$40). Seems like a lot of administrative overhead.

Yes, probably more so for the charities (which needed to register with Amazon).

EDIT: what I wrote here probably isn't correct (see comments from Jeff below)

My understanding (I can't remember my source for this) is that it's less about charitable giving and more motivated by a war against Google for revenue. I'd give a c.60% chance that this accurately describes Amazon's motivations.

Without Amazon Smile:

  • Someone googles "Trousers from Amazon" (or whatever)
  • When the user clicks on an ad on google's search results and goes to an Amazon page, Amazon gives Google some money
  • If the customer than goes to make a purchase, Amazon gives google a bit more money

I'm imagining a (fictional) dialogue between two Amazon employees: 

  • "Can we convince the user to go to a copy of this webpage which has a different url? then we don't pay the money to google?"
  • "Why would they do they do that?"
  • "We could pay the customer an amount less than the amount we pay to google?"
  • "But the amount Amazon would give to the customer would be so paltry"
  • "What if the money goes to charity instead? People are much more scope insensitive about charitable giving"

My propensity to believe this story is mostly because it seems to explain Amazon's behaviour in a way that sounds difficult to understand otherwise. My credence in this would be higher than c.60% if it were verified by a high quality source.

So if they're closing the programme, I'm wondering if the benefits of recouping ad spend from Google is no longer big enough to warrant the costs of the running the Smile system.

This isn't consistent with how Google charges for ads, though?

Oh really? I'm no expert on google ads, but I thought it was common to have "conversions", and to pay more if a certain pre-defined event occurs (and a purchase is an example of a conversion).

I suspect Jeff knows more about google ads than I do, so maybe I should adjust my 60% number down.

An advertiser can choose to pay per conversion instead of per click, but whether to send the conversion ping is always up to the advertiser. They don't need to use something like Smile to get an excuse for not sending the ping: they can just not send the ping.

(Why send pings at all? The reason to pay per conversion is to let Google optimize for sending you the cheapest traffic that converts. Your bids still end up in auctions against others, though, and if Google's estimate of how likely this traffic is to convert on your site is lower, the bids they'll put in on your behalf are lower, and you'll lose lots of auctions you'd have preferred to win.)

Possibly this analysis is correct, but with respect to affiliate links rather than Google ads?

And/or reducing costs from the affiliate marketing program using the same logic.

My personal commentary: probably not much of a loss, but directionally sucks. No charity was receiving much money this way as far as I know, but was a nice way to feel a bit better about shopping on Amazon since you got to pick where their charitable giving went, and I'm sure it had some marginal impact for some charities. I'm also sure there's a backstory, like wanting to not be neutral on where the funds go because they leave it up to customers to choose from any registered charity, but that's not present in the announcement.

Just seeing this, now that it's taken effect.

Pro's of Smile (cons of it's shutting down)

  1. Some of the funds could/did go to effective charities, or charities I think are likely to be somewhat effective even if not assessed by GiveWell

Cons of Smile

I suspect there may have been some moral-licensing or crowding out ere on both sides:

  • People might have given less to charity 'because I'm already giving through Amazon Smile', and may have overestimated how much this was

  • Amazon/Bezos might also have done this ('we are giving through Amazon Smile, that is taking care of our obligation and PR')

Other puzzles and thoughts

  • Amazon's page notifying people about this seems to decidedly suggest a lack of a future effectiveness-focus

    • In particular, all the charities and initiatives they list seem to be USA-focused only
  • I've seen (can't find the link atm) to a claim/research that 'Amazon Smile was net-profitable for Amazon, because it generated more than 0.5% in additional profits'. If that was true then shutting down Smile would be Amazon shooting itself in the foot. But that might have been a motivated explanation; I'm not sure who/how could have actually estimated this and shared it publicly.

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