Small businesses and nonprofits have a lot in common: They operate on thin margins, develop strong local ties and support their communities’ economic and social wellbeing.
But what happens to those strong bonds when an online retailing giant comes in with a deal that benefits one side and threatens the other? That was the question at the heart of a recent mini-rebellion led by a feisty western Colorado bookseller, who heard her favorite community radio station, KAFM, promoting a new fundraising partnership with Amazon.
Margie Wilson, owner of Grand Valley Books and another bookstore in town, asked, “How does a community-supported organization expect to keep receiving local business support when they encourage their members to shop for books and other products on Amazon?”
At issue was the benign-sounding AmazonSmile program. AmazonSmile lets charities use Amazon's technology to raise funds from supporters via click-and-forget transactions. After a one-time signup, it automatically uses 0.5 percent of a qualified sale to benefit a nonprofit designated by the purchaser.
These are sales, says Amazon, that were going to the company anyway. The consumer feels good about supporting a chosen charity, and the organization raises more money without added fundraising overhead. For cash-strapped nonprofits with limited technical resources, this looks like a risk-free helping hand.
To Wilson and other main street business owners, it felt more like a slap in the face. A powerful competitor that participates little in the hometown's charitable or civic affairs was harvesting local goodwill, customer browser information and purchases that sent dollars out of the community.
Wilson decided to take a stand. She enlisted customers, friends of the station and other business owners to ask the KAFM Board to reconsider its participation.
The board did — and then voted to terminate its AmazonSmile partnership, saying: “The fundraising method that sparked the controversy arose out of new technology, but the KAFM Board determined the resolution needed to come from an old ‘technology’ — neighbors helping neighbors.”