The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Amazon is closing its charity, which donated millions, citing limited impact

The news comes as the e-commerce giant is cutting 18,000 jobs

The lobby of Amazon’s offices in New York on Feb. 14, 2019. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
3 min

Amazon is winding down its charitable-giving arm next month on grounds that its impact is “often spread too thin,” even though it has donated to more than a million organizations over the past decade.

In a note to customers Wednesday, Amazon said the program “AmazonSmile,” which was launched in 2013, would be suspended on Feb. 20. Drawing on the company’s own funds, AmazonSmile directed donations equaling a half-percent from each purchase to a charity of the customer’s choice.

To help ease the transition, participating charities will receive a one-time donation equaling roughly a quarter of what they received in 2022, the company said.

Since its launch, “the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped,” the company said, adding that it will still “pursue and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make meaningful change” such as affordable housing, education and food-assistance programs.

The program’s closure comes after the e-commerce giant announced plans to cut 18,000 jobs and as numerous other technology companies are laying off workers amid global economic uncertainty. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Over the years, the program distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Cancer Society, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA said in February that it had raised $10 million through Amazon’s program.

But AmazonSmile also distributed more than $42,000 to nonprofit entities spreading disinformation about coronavirus vaccines, The Post has reported.

The program’s donations increased steadily between 2013 and 2020, according to tax records. In 2013, the charitable-giving arm disbursed $10,000. In 2020, its distributions grew to $60.5 million, which went to more than 300,000 groups.

Most nonprofits were allowed to participate in AmazonSmile, except those on a list of hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as those on a list of groups suspected of ties to terrorism compiled by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Yet only four groups — the ASPCA, St. Jude’s, the Nature Conservancy and the American Red Cross — received more than $1 million. Only 24 secured more than $100,000, while about 230 got more than $10,000. Thousands of churches, neighborhood associations, animal shelters and little leagues received just $5.

In a statement to The Post, an Amazon spokesman also pointed to a disparity in distributions. He said that while the company has donated $449 million to charities worldwide, the average donation to U.S. charities in 2021 was less than $230. He reiterated that the program was not as effective as the company had hoped and Amazon would continue other philanthropic efforts.

Matt Bershadker, the ASPCA’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the nonprofit appreciated AmazonSmile’s support over the years. “We are sad to see the AmazonSmile program end, given the enormous boost it provided a wide range of vital nonprofits, including the ASPCA,” he said.

An American Cancer Society spokeswoman said AmazonSmile’s donations were appreciated and contributed to important work, and it’s “always disappointing to hear about any charitable giving programs being discontinued.”