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Amazon to Close its Smile Program, Impacting Christian Ministries

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Nearly a decade ago, Amazon created its Smile program as a way for its customers to support their favorite charities. Now it has decided to shutter the program.

According to an email sent to participating charities, Amazon claimed its philanthropic efforts were “spread too thin” to have a meaningful impact.

“They certainly never listened to any of the emails that were sent or they never surveyed us,”  Lauren Wagner, executive director of the Long Island Arts Alliance, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “They never got our input on how to make it more impactful.”

AmazonSmile launched in 2013 and contributed 0.5% of every qualifying purchase made by participating customers to the charity of their choosing.

Donations totaled $449 million to various charities as of 2022.

The program will officially end in February, but as a way to ease the transition for charities, Amazon will provide a “one-time donation equivalent to three months of what they earned in 2022 through the program.”

While many nonprofits claim it will leave them with a funding hole to fill, the Christian ministries who responded to MinistryWatch’s inquiry are not dependent on Amazon Smile funding.

The revenue, while not a large part of the budget for the Christian ministries we talked to, was a passive revenue stream. It did not require much effort to generate.

Lifeline, a group that helps local churches launch ministry initiatives, participated in Amazon Smile and received approximately $2,000 a year from it, according to Ben Simms, its president and CEO.

Lifeline promoted the program “here and there,” but it didn’t actively market it and doesn’t expect the closure to leave a large revenue hole. Lifeline is considering other grant opportunities from Amazon.

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Amazon plans to continue giving to local groups “doing meaningful work in cities where our employees and their families live.”

Biblical education ministry Third Millenium Ministries (ThirdMill) Executive Director Eric Linares told MinistryWatch some of its supporters have expressed disappointment at the Smile program closing.

“They felt encouraged by their ability to contribute through their Amazon qualified purchases,” he said.

ThirdMill actively marketed the Amazon Smile program to its supporters, Linares said.

He estimated the Smile program generated “several hundred dollars” for ThirdMill each year, and expects the program’s end will have some impact on the ministry. Linares is unsure of how they might fill the gap.

Save the Storks, a pro-life ministry, participated in the Amazon Smile program, but only took in about $500 a year, according to CEO Diane Ferraro.

Still, she believes participating in Amazon Smile had other benefits aside from revenue generation.

“It offered us an opportunity to share our mission with an audience that may not have been familiar with Save the Storks,” Ferraro told MinistryWatch.

Ferraro also expressed skepticism about the reasons for Amazon’s decision to close the Smile program.

“I can’t help but think though that their bold pro-abortion stance and reimbursing employees up to $4,000 to travel for abortions had a senior level executive realize that they were also supporting pro-life ministries like Save the Storks and 2,700+ pregnancy centers through their Smile program,” Ferraro opined.

“I think of the many virtual baby showers that pro-life ministries host, driving supporters to Amazon to buy diapers, strollers, cribs and clothing for moms without any support system,” she noted. “My skeptical side is furious that Amazon profits from selling essential items for moms, babies and families, yet pays for employees to abort their babies.”

According to Amazon spokesman Patrick Malone, its decision to end the Smile program was not a criticism of the nonprofits is supported. In statements to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, he said it is part of a strategic shift to support initiatives that work on a larger scale, like its $2 billion contribution to build affordable housing.

Corporate donations were down slightly in 2021 compared with 2020, when companies accelerated contributions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of Corporate Purpose, said the current economic climate, with inflation and recession concerns, may also cause further decline.

Walmart and Target have programs similar to Amazon Smile.

In Walmart’s Spark Good donation program, customers can select a nonprofit to support when shopping online. Customers can round up their payment to the nearest dollar rather than donating a portion of the sale to the nonprofit as Amazon Smile did.

The grocery chain Kroger also has a Community Rewards program. In 2021, customer spending resulted in nearly $46 million donated through Community Rewards to eligible nonprofits.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.