Amazon Smile

post by alexrjl · 2018-11-18T20:16:27.180Z · EA · GW · 7 comments


  Why am I making this post?
  Why might this be a bad idea?
  Even if the effect is positive, surely it's too small to be worth doing anything about?

Why am I making this post?

While the content discussed below is relatively low impact compared to many of the ideas discussed on this forum, it requires so little time/money that the impact per cost still looks encouraging.

Using means that amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchases to a charity of your choice. The AMF and Animal Equality (givewell and ACE top charities respectively). This is free money, not very much, but for most people who use amazon, enough to be worth the ~30s it takes to set up.

Amazon smile lets you start conversations about charitable effectiveness with people who otherwise wouldn't go anywehere near EA topics. A social media post, with, for example, why you've chosen AMF for your smile donation, and why you think it's important to choose carefully rather than go with one of the defaults, is a gentle way in to thinking about idea of charitable effectiveness, and anecdotally has led to positive conversations with people I think a harder sell would have put off.

Why might this be a bad idea?

If amazon smile causes you to spend more than you otherwise would have, especially on things you don't need, you could do much more good by donating directly instead of spending on Amazon. This is, of course, less of a problem if you wouldn't have donated the extra money you are incentivised to waste on Amazon.

Signing up for smile may cause people to feel like they've "done their bit", and reduce donations elsewhere. This seems somewhat unlikely for EAs, although not impossible. It seems somewhat more likely for non-EAs, though given that charitable effectiveness can vary by several orders of magnitude, if non-EAs are persuaded by you to send their smile donations to an effective charity this may not be enough to make the overall effect negative.

Even if the effect is positive, surely it's too small to be worth doing anything about?

It depends how likely you think I am to be right about this being a good way of starting conversations about charitable effectiveness. If you think I might be right, but don't want to waste time writing your own long-shot post to share on social media, feel free to use mine. It was written for my particular social media bubble, yours may be different, but at the very least it may save you some time.

I'm not saying use Amazon, but over Black Friday, Christmas, and being too lazy to go outside, you're probably going to. If you do, you may as well use and do some good at the same time.
Depending on which charity you choose to give to, the amount of good you end up doing could be surprisingly large. My top picks are below:
Against Malaria Foundation -
Read more about their effectiveness here:
Animal Equality -
Read more about their effectiveness here:


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Taymon · 2018-11-21T03:49:24.583Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that it is a bad idea to publicly advocate this (though using it is fine). I'm not worried so much about moral licensing; rather, I think the amount of money being moved in this way is so tiny, relative to the amount of attention required in order to move it, that in a genuinely impact-focused discussion of possible ways to do good it would not even come up. I fear that bringing it up in association with EA gives a misleading impression of what the EA approach to prioritization looks like.

Replies from: alexrjl
comment by alexrjl · 2018-11-22T07:03:33.769Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a valid concern, and certainly don't think presenting 'Amazon smile is the sort of thing EAs do' is particularly useful or accurate. To try to be sightly more clear about why I do think the mention is a useful starting point:

  • Full EA can be quite a lot to try to introduce to people all at once, even when those people already want to help.
  • Asking people to carefully consider how they make a specific donation is a gentle way in, at least to 'soft EA'. (Giving games are another example of this)
  • Amazon Smile is a specific donation that you can ask people to consider how they make. If they haven't heard of it before, it's likely that their net experience of hearing about it and setting it up will be positive (they are getting to donate to a charity with no downside, again rather like a giving game). My hope is that this positive experience will make people more likely to consider where their donations go in future, and/or to respond positively to future things they hear about EA. I'm uncertain about how large the effects in each case will be, but don't think they will be negative. I am concerned, however about the effect of someone setting up Amazon smile on the total amount that they donate in future, which I think will be negative if you ignore any potential introduction to EA. This means the probability of the exercise being positive depends on how likely you are to be able to use the conversations as a productive starting point.
comment by michaelchen · 2018-11-22T20:36:15.830Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd add in a bit about browser extensions that automatically redirect you from Amazon to Amazon Smile, like Smile Always (Chrome) and Amazon Smiley (Firefox).

The impact is honestly depressing low: over the past years of Amazon shopping, I've only generated $4.27 (apparently after $854 of purchases).

comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2018-11-18T22:20:20.464Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

GiveWell (unrestricted) is on there too, under "The Clear Fund" (the official legal name of GiveWell)

Replies from: BenMillwood
comment by BenMillwood · 2019-06-15T22:19:10.033Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I couldn't find The Clear Fund when I looked just now. Would be interested in someone confirming that it's still there.

Replies from: AviN
comment by AviNorowitz (AviN) · 2019-06-16T01:08:48.853Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

They can now be found as "GiveWell" in San Francisco, CA. I think they changed their legal name at some point.

comment by drbrake · 2018-11-19T16:23:23.707Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

NB works like Having written to Amazon Smile they responded: " We are currently working on expanding the AmazonSmile program to other countries.

You are correct in stating that customers can currently support organizations in one of the 50 United States, Germany, Austria, or the United Kingdom."