July 01, 2011

Charities Use Amazon's Wish List for Needed Goods

In late May, Jennifer Roccanti wrote a message on a friend's Facebook post: "So cool! I think I might steal this for Miriam's Kitchen!"

What Ms. Roccanti, an assistant director for development at Miriam's Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Washington, saw on Facebook was the solution to a problem she had been facing for months: how to make it easy for people to donate goods online.

Her friend had helped Lucky Dog Animal Rescue by buying $25 worth of flea medicine on an Amazon Wish List the animal-welfare organization had created.

The online wish list enables people to make a donation that pays for one or more products listed, including shipping and handling.

Inspired, Ms. Roccanti and her colleagues went to work building a wish list for Miriam's Kitchen.

For the past month, the charity has sent out e-mails letting supporters know about the list, which requests food and sundries.

The first time they sent an e-mail appeal, the food bank got hundreds of boxes of coffee, deodorant, sunscreen, underwear, T-shirts, yarn, and beads.

The second time around, it sent an e-mail saying that it was running out of cereal. ("We go through more than 100 boxes of cereal a week and have less than a week's worth of cereal left," the appeal said.). Four days later, 1,100 boxes of cereal arrived at the soup kitchen's door.

"We have never had that kind of outpouring of support in terms of in-kind donations," Ms. Roccanti says. "It's just changed the way we ask for things and changed the way people respond."

Ms. Roccanti says the wish list gives people a way to avoid the hassle of buying the items and dropping them off at the soup kitchen. "You don't have to leave the computer to be incredibly helpful," she says.

Miriam's Kitchen estimates that more than $6,000 worth of products have been bought as gifts through the Amazon wish list since June 1. It plans to send e-mail appeals with a link to the wish list only when the charity needs emergency supplies, and perhaps during the holidays.

"We will certainly keep it up throughout the year, but we need to be careful not to be asking too much," Ms. Roccanti says. "We don't want to wear out our community."

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue has been successful, too, since it started its Amazon wish list six weeks ago. It's saved about $535 because it didn't have to pay for plastic kennels, leashes, dog food, or other items, says Mirah Horowitz, executive director of the pet charity.

The organization has been spreading the word about the donation opportunity through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Many of the donors, she says, are gratified because they know exactly where there money is going.

"Every time we get three to four people to take something off the wish list, it's kind of like Christmas," Ms. Horowitz says. "We never know what's coming, and all of a sudden, there's a package!"