The Slacktivist and Amazon Smile

Ahhh…  Birthday Season has once again swept New England along with the heavy wet July heat, swarms of thirsty mosquitoes, a gallery of out-of-state license plates, and, of course, the task of choosing gifts for friends and family members who are, as some social scientists speculate, the result of an increase in couple “togetherness” during the frosty fall months when summer romance shifts inside from the bright sunshine to the warmth and privacy of a cozy fireplace. Yes, July and August typically vie for the top month both in terms of birthrates and the corresponding birthday parties that dot the calendar like stars on an Amazon product review page.

Despite growing concern that the one time modest online bookseller has swelled with the fat of Whole Foods into what may be considered a global monopoly, let’s face it, shopping on Amazon is a tempting proposition when a last minute party invitation presents itself like a clown popping out of a jack-in-the-box.  It’s quick, easy, and convenient.  Throw in an automatic donation through the AmazonSmile program, along with free two day shipping, and online birthday shopping becomes the busy Slacktivist’s hot, sloppy Midsummer Night’s Dream.  On the flip side of the mattress, however, there lurks the slight possibility that the Slacktivist will emerge from an Amazon spending spree feeling soiled and sheepish regardless of whether or not he or she included a donation to a beloved charity along with his or her transaction.

In his 2013 Huffington Post article, “Why Amazon Is Smiling and Charities May Be Losing,” author Brady Josephson addresses some of the pitfalls of modern day Slacktivism, specifically targeting the AmazonSmile program as an ineffective and perhaps even detrimental form of charitable giving.  His assertion centers around the possibility that the small donation Amazon offers to make to the nonprofit of a customer’s choice will replace traditional and potentially more substantial charitable activities that the shopper may otherwise engage in.  In other words, philanthropists fear that the Slacktivist will click, feel good, and move on to the next in a stream of holiday or birthday related tasks feeling satisfied that Amazon’s donation constitutes a sufficient expression of generosity.  Furthermore, as Josephson enumerates in his post, only 0.5 percent of a customer’s purchase is being given to his or her chosen cause, so a $10,000 purchase through AmazonSmile would be required in order to reach a donation level of $50 to charity.

Okay, the above figures seem to loom like ominous clouds above sandy, salty, sun screen smeared swimmers, threatening a sudden storm… But are the numbers really that bad?  Let’s use a specific example: Sally was selling seashells by the seashore when she slipped on a patch of slimy seaweed and was stranded in the approaching surf unable to stand until slowly she was sucked out to sea where a shark swam to the surface and bit off her right foot.  Fortunately, a passerby rescued Sally in time to save her from certain demise, but poor Sally is now confined to a hospital bed.  Her son’s sixth birthday is in seven days, and Sally is alas unable to shop for the toy spaceship he requested unless… Sally could shop from her bed through AmazonSmiles…

A silly story? Yes, but the point is that there are sometimes circumstances under which it is simply impossible to shop in person at a small locally owned business or to gather the materials necessary to make a gift.  Even the noblest among us may find themselves at some point in a situation in which online shopping is the only option aside from being without a gift for an upcoming event, though hopefully unlike poor Sally there will be no lost limbs involved.

So…  In Sally’s case, she shops for her son’s spaceship through AmazonSmiles, electing to have Amazon donate 0.5% of her purchase to Amputee Coalition of America, Inc., an organization now dear to both her heart and foot.  Sally chooses a model spaceship that costs exactly $200. As a result of her purchase, Amazon donates a total of $1 to amputees at no additional cost to Sally. Granted, a single dollar isn’t going to cover the cost of a new foot for anyone, but a one dollar donation is much more helpful than a zero dollar contribution.  As of May 2018, Amazon has donated $89,030,554.80 to charity through AmazonSmiles.  Shoppers like Sally and slacktivists everywhere who made the logical decision that one dollar is better than none, collectively raised a fair amount of money for charity without spending an extra cent of their own money.  They leveraged an activity that they would have engaged in anyway, online shopping, and with the few extra clicks required to designate a charity through AmazonSmiles, did a tiny bit of good.

Hopefully, at some point in the future when Sally is back on her feet, so to speak, and once again able to sell seashells by the seashore, she will make a larger donation to Amputee Coalition through their website.  In the meantime, she has at least used a simple tool at her disposal to support an organization she admires rather than simply ignoring the tool’s existence.  Amazon and Slacktivists alike can share a smile in that regard.

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