Charity Hack of the Week?

Anyone who has ever worked in an open office knows that at times things can get a little crazy. Last week one of those super noisy days prompted me to finally order a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, potentially the best invention since the wheel. Ordering them was the first time when I had a chance to test AmazonSmile. That turned out to be very simple: American Red Cross was featured on the spotlight charity list, so selecting it to be supported by Amazon on behalf of me required just one click.

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The difference between the regular Amazon (www.amazon.com) and AmazonSmile (smile.amazon.com) is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to a charitable organization selected by the customer. The assortment, pricing and look-and-feel are identical on both websites, so the only trick really is to remember to place the orders via the right link. Hence if you use Chrome as your browser, you might want to download the Smile Always extension that makes sure that you always remember to smile.

There are as many as almost one million charities to choose from, including my other favorites Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Grassroots Reconciliation Group, and The Mentor Foundation. For now, only charities that are U.S. based and qualified under Section 501(c)(3) are eligible program participants. Organizations that want to learn more about benefiting from AmazonSmile can find more information here.

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Like one would expect, AmazonSmile has also faced a fare amount of critisism since it was launched last fall. To begin with, 0.5% is not very much: To get Amazon to donate $50, you would need to spend $10,000. Then again, as the donation comes from Amazon’s pocket, and Amazon also pays the operating costs of the AmazonSmile Foundation, it comes with no (direct) cost to the consumer or the charity. There may be indirect implications, though. Even if the prices are not higher on AmazonSmile compared to the regular Amazon, it is easy to claim that in the end customers pay the donations as a hidden markup in regular pricing.

For charities, a detrimental side effect may be that people feel so good about shopping though AmazonSmile that they are less likely to donate directly. The MIT students who developed the Smile Always extension share the concern and have a valid wish: “While we encourage everyone who shops at Amazon to use this extension, we hope you will also find other ways to contribute to charitable causes you care about by directly donating your dollars, skills, and time.”

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Despite all the complexities related to charitable actions, there are lots of reasons to smile. Like spring, for example, that formally started yesterday. After yet another snow day on Monday, the temperature is forecasted to rise close to 20’C/70’F tomorrow. Have a great weekend, all, and smile like a cookie from Hanko!

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