Monday, April 9, 2012

Amazon's Philanthropy Nearly Non-Existent In Seattle

Amazon.com, one of the largest and most popular online retailers, was originally conceived in downtown Seattle, Wash. Yet while other organizations born in the Emerald City have been very active in their hometown's philanthropy, Amazon has been noticeably absent.

According to a report in The Seattle Times, the online retail giant has been a minor player in Seattle's philanthropic scene.  The United Way of King County which, as The NonProfit Times reported, received a record $117,390,119 last year. Microsoft made a corporate donation of $4 million in 2011.

The list of Amazon's no-shows for its hometown is quite extensive. The Times reported that many nonprofit officials find it difficult to find someone at the company who will talk to them, and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos didn't attend a January 2011 luncheon meant to honor him as "Executive of the Year." Even more important for the city, Amazon has made no significant donations for Seattle-area causes.

Major companies  are usually found on lists of major donors for local nonprofits, but that's not the case for Amazon. The Seattle Times found no record of Amazon donations to Seattle-based nonprofits like the Seattle Symphony, Washington's Special Olympics, or YMCA of Greater Seattle. Most of its financial support has gone to writers' groups. Since 2009, Amazon has supported 80 writers' groups in the U.S., including 19 in the Seattle area, with grants of about $25,000. It also gave the University of Washington $51,000 over a three-year period.

Bezos has defended his company by saying that its most important contributions come in the form of its core business activities. He also expressed skepticism, in a 2010 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, that philanthropy was the best way to solve problems. He noted that the Kindle, the company's e-reader, could be seen as a low-cost way to distribute books to the needy.

Yet that is really the extent of Amazon's philanthropic activity in the area. What do you think of this story? Can you think of any reason why Amazon would be reluctant to engage in philanthropy in Seattle? Make sure to read the full story in The Seattle Times.

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