About 100 books a week are donated to the local nonprofit Chicago Books to Women in Prison.
But rarely among them are some of the books that women in prison really need — like current editions of GED reviews, or books offering advice on how to be a parent from behind bars.
That’s where their Amazon wish list comes in.
Each of the past two years, Chicago Books to Women in Prison received about 300 new GED prep books — one of its top requests — thanks to pleas through the wish list they sent out around Giving Tuesday (the post-Thanksgiving charitable counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday). Normally, the group, at 4511 Hermitage Ave., would get about a tenth of those books donated, according to Vicki White, president of the organization.
“That enables us to send a GED review book immediately. We don’t have to wait. So that was at the top of our wish list during that period,” White said. “[It’s] really, really important.”
Several local organizations use Amazon’s wish list feature, which resembles a wedding gift registry, to request specific goods for their charitable causes.
Laurie Maxwell, director of community outreach at PAWS Chicago, said a wish list is a way for people to see where their donation is going.
“It’s a little more personal than a monetary donation; you can kind of visualize a dog chewing on this bone that you got,” Maxwell said. “Or for our pet food pantry, you know that that bag of food is going to a pet in need.”
A Cygnus Applied Research survey of Americans who donated to charities in 2016 or 2015 found that among respondents who said they can financially maintain their donations but not increase them, one in three could be swayed to give more if the charity presents a “case for extraordinary need.”
The survey also found changes in how people give. Contributions sent by mail were most common in 2016, but that statistic was skewed by older donors: only 24 percent of donors under 35 responded to mail appeals, compared to 62 percent of the oldest givers. Online giving increased for all respondents, but especially with younger donors, according to the survey.
While the Amazon wish list function has been available since 2000, Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities across the nation, has seen the use of the wish list increase significantly in the last year or two, especially as part of disaster relief efforts, according to marketing manager Sara Nason.
“Individuals relate to their donation in a very different way when they’re saying ‘I’ve given, you know, 20 diapers to a diaper bank’ or ‘I’m giving floodlights to these organizers’ or connecting differently with specific resources as opposed to choosing to donate in the traditional sense of just sending cash,” Nason said.
Amazon’s Prime feature could also make donating through the website easier than dropping off donations in person for the shopping site’s 100 million paid Amazon Prime customers.
Those users rely heavily on the website, according to a study of Amazon users by company Feedvisor. The study found 85 percent of Amazon Prime users visit amazon.com at least once a week — compared to 56 percent of non-Prime users — and about half of them will make a purchase before leaving the site.
Amazon wish lists coexist with the website’s charity-specific effort, Amazon Smile, which automatically donates part of each purchase to a customer’s chosen charity.
Nason said Amazon wish lists are just one of several ways nonprofits solicit donations to better connect with young givers.
“Young people give in this rapidly and wildly and radically different way than the baby boomers do,” Nason said. “And so I think Amazon wish lists provide a really awesome alternative for people who don’t enjoy — or even own — checkbooks.”
Cradles to Crayons Chicago, which collects school supplies for kids in need, uses wish lists weekly on a smaller scale to fill gaps in its inventory. Catherine McDonough, senior manager of community engagement, said the organization sent an email to supporters that linked to a list of boys’ pants in specific sizes; within days, they had received hundreds of pairs.
McDonough said inventory gaps can delay distribution, so they’ve started sharing lists of needed items on social media through a promotion they call “Wish List Wednesday.”
While people will always look to donate their used goods somewhere, McDonough said, “the Amazon wish list gives people the power, with just one click, to send us an item that a child really needs.”