Chances are you’ve heard about AmazonSmile, or maybe even used it to contribute to a charity. AmazonSmile is a program operated by Amazon that offers all the same products, with the distinction that a portion of the price of eligible purchases goes toward the buyer’s charity of choice.

Holiday shop how-to! Choosing a vendor, getting organized, and lots of promotional tools

How Does It Work?

When users shop at smile.amazon.com, the AmazonSmile Foundation contributes 0.5 percent of eligible purchases (that’s $5 of every $1000 spent) to a designated charity—in this case, your PTO. Especially for frequent Amazon users (and who isn’t?), it’s an effortless way to give back to charities.

A note about Amazon Associates: Amazon Associates is what’s known as an affiliate program, which allows participants to promote specific Amazon products and links for payment. It’s open to nonprofits, but program requirements from Amazon can make it challenging for PTOs to participate. Amazon Associates is separate from AmazonSmile.

Getting Started

First things first: To participate in AmazonSmile, PTOs must be registered and in good standing with the IRS as a 501(c)(3). There are many other reasons to consider becoming a 501(c)(3) if you haven’t yet; our free webinar on 501(c)(3) basics can walk you through the best practices of becoming a federally recognized tax-exempt organization.

The next steps for participating in AmazonSmile are fairly straightforward:

  1. Search for your parent group by name or EIN and then select the organization you represent. Confirm carefully that you’re selecting the correct group as many charitable organizations have similar names.

  2. Create an organization administrator account and accept the AmazonSmile Participation Agreement on behalf of your PTO.

  3. Verify your email address. (We recommend that you use an email address associated with your PTO or PTA instead of a personal account.)

  4. Submit your organization’s bank account information. (Payments are deposited directly into your account.)

  5. Upload a copy of a voided check or bank statement to verify your PTO’s bank account information.

Once you’ve taken these steps, shoppers in your school community simply designate your group as their selected charity to receive the 0.5 percent purchase donation. Check the AmazonSmile site for FAQs and additional information on getting started.

How Much Can You Expect To Earn?

What you net from AmazonSmile depends on the size of your school community and how well people remember to designate your group as charity recipients, among other factors. Informally, members of our PTO and PTA Leaders & Volunteers Facebook group say that their quarterly earnings from AmazonSmile range from “very low” to $100-plus; one leader even said her group netted about $250 during the busy winter holiday shopping season.

AmazonSmile will make an automatic deposit into your PTO bank account each month, and you can use the money in the same way as all your other PTO fundraising: enrichment, field trips, teacher appreciation, and more.

Points To Consider

For your PTO to benefit from the program, shoppers need to use the AmazonSmile website—because it’s a separate program, the Amazon app or regular Amazon browser link won’t work. If you sign up for the program, regularly remind your school community to use the right link.

Read the fine print for getting the word out. Participating organizations can spread the word to supporters using email, website banners, links, widgets, social media posts, direct mail, printed materials, and signage—but there are rules and restrictions to be aware of.

Be patient! It can take time to see results. Even if you don’t end up with a lot of money, it’s easy passive income—and every little bit helps!