Snazzy new Amazon trucks have appeared on Asheville streets. A new Amazon delivery station gleams alongside Airport Road south of the city. And money from Amazon charitable giving programs is making its way into the region. Local nonprofits report receiving between tens and hundreds of dollars in recent years from AmazonSmile Foundation.
“As a part of Amazon’s commitment to giving back to the communities in which it operates,” says Ashley Lansdale, a spokesperson for Amazon Logistics, the company’s Mills River employees “donated pet toys and food [of approximately $500 value] to the Asheville Humane Society. Additionally, associates from the delivery station volunteered their time to care for animals and provided a [$1,000] donation to the no-kill shelter.”
The global company has promoted such contributions, and many customers navigate to smile.amazon.com, where the AmazonSmile program contributes 0.5% of eligible purchases to a nonprofit of the buyer’s choice. Since the giving tool launched in 2013, the AmazonSmile Foundation has donated more than $215 million globally, millions of which have gone to North Carolina nonprofits, according to company spokespeople.
While the local nonprofits that received a portion of that money undoubtedly welcomed it, Amazon’s charity looks less impressive when considered in the context of its broader balance sheet. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company’s annual revenue reached $280 billion in 2019; AmazonSmile’s total giving over seven years thus represents just under 0.0008% of Amazon’s revenue for one year. While the $215 million figure does not include wishlist fulfillment and other donations Amazon may make independently of AmazonSmile, the company does not make those totals public.
(Asheville Humane Society notes that, due to COVID-19, Amazon employees have not yet undertaken any volunteering but hope to in the future. The local delivery station opened in September.)
In terms of local impact, Amazon doesn’t come within a country mile of the support long provided by regional businesses such as Ingles Markets, Mast General Store and Wicked Weed Brewing. Similarly, the generosity of many smaller businesses is proportionally enormous.
For many WNC nonprofits, business support and partnerships comprise a significant part of their budgets. And while Asheville has a comparatively large number of nonprofits per capita, area businesses rise to the need. A shopper can’t walk around Asheville without tripping over businesses that wear their support of local causes proudly. Mountain Xpress asked some of the sponsors of this year’s Give!Local campaign about their history partnering with nonprofits, as well as some Give!Local nonprofits about how they rely on corporate relationships.
Punching above their weight
Over the last decade, Weavervile’s Blue Mountain Pizza has donated more than $250,000 to local nonprofits. Owner Matt Danford says that on every third Thursday, he and his staff choose a locally run nonprofit to receive 10% of that day’s revenue. An additional donation box in the restaurant encourages patrons to give to the selected organization, with Blue Mountain Pizza matching the proceeds.
It’s a hyperlocal program. To get the word out, the pizza shop runs an ad on the front page of the Weaverville Tribune, letting the community know which charity has been chosen that month. One of the most frequent beneficiaries has been a senior dining program run under the auspices of the Council on Aging of Buncombe County at Weaverville First Baptist Church.
Blue Mountain’s model of donating a percentage of its proceeds is common across WNC. MANNA FoodBank has several such agreements with local businesses, says corporate engagement manager Olivia Onderlinde. Through MANNA’s Hops for Hunger, breweries around town donate portions of beer sales; hotels participating in MANNA’s Sweet Dreams, Full Plates donate a portion of their revenues; and area real estate agents donate to MANNA in lieu of closing gifts traditionally given to clients through Closing on Hunger.
MountainTrue’s Andy Bowers sees potential in a similar strategy for his organization, noting that the work of Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill already receives significant support from businesses that donate a portion of their revenues to the cause. But Bowers, MountainTrue’s development director, cautions that COVID-19 has clouded the outlook for generating funds from business partners, since many companies — especially restaurants — have weathered extended closures in 2020.
Pauline Heyne, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy’s director of philanthropy, generally hopes to see about 10% of her organization’s budget coming from business sponsorships and donations. Other nonprofits reported similar budget targets, although there is significant variation.
But not all corporate giving is based on money. Often the fit between business resources and nonprofit needs are hand in glove — or foot in sock, as the case may be.
Partnerships with Hanes and Bombas Socks provided 8,500 pairs of socks, valued in excess of $60,000, to Homeward Bound of WNC’s clients during the 2019-20 fiscal year. Madeline Wadley, Homeward Bound’s business engagement specialist, says the majority of the nonprofit’s corporate support comes from in-kind donations.
For example, Ashley Home Stores donated nearly $20,000 in mattresses to the nonprofit through a program tied to the furniture seller’s retail mattress revenue. And businesses across the region host critical clothing drives each fall to shore up Homeward Bound’s supplies for winter.
MANNA FoodBank also regularly benefits from in-kind partnerships, and not just the expected food donations from area groceries. Thermo Fisher Scientific, a lab equipment manufacturer, donates unsold refrigeration units to MANNA, allowing the nonprofit to store and distribute more perishable products.
Wicked Weed and Mast General Store both started small and have expanded to become WNC household names. Both companies also started giving back to the community early on and have incorporated a reputation for charity into their brand identities.
Ryan Robinson, Mast General Store’s community relations program manager, says nonprofit engagement is a big component of his company’s marketing strategy, including an annual $10,000 partnership with SAHC. And Rachel Dudasik, Wicked Weed’s community engagement coordinator, says philanthropy helps reinforce the company’s brand.
Through the brewery’s partnerships in the areas of people, environment and arts, which have donated around $1.6 million to Southeast nonprofits since 2012, Dudasik says Wicked Weed is reinforcing the story of its founders’ core values. The Guthy family — among the founders of Wicked Weed — has long been committed to meeting human needs in the community, she says. Likewise, arts are a foundational component of the company’s identity, as evidenced by its in-house label design and fabrication shops for company projects. Wicked Weed’s longtime commitment to environmental protection acknowledges the role of the region’s clean water and other natural resources in the brewery’s success, Dudasik concludes.
Similarly, Robinson says Mast’s giving grew out of the legacy of the company’s first general store in rural Valle Crucis. “When someone in a small community had a house burn down or a spouse pass away or somebody in need, there was always a collection jar or some sort of call to action at the general store,” he explains. “We try to embody that in our business.”
Sometimes the benefits of marketing work both ways. Wicked Weed’s Appalachia IPA has raised $40,000 for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy in its first two years on the market, but it’s also helped the land conservation nonprofit build awareness with new audiences.
The organization’s For Love of Beer and Mountains partnership with Highland Brewing Co. brings a similar brand-boosting benefit, says Heyne. “When somebody is making a beer and putting your name on it, the exposure you get from that is priceless,” she adds.