Parcels and toy delivery truck

Three (and a half) ways charities can benefit from the online shopping boom this Christmas

Christmas will be even busier for online shopping this year, and charities and not-for-profit organisations can take advantage of this in multiple ways

There are a number of ways that charities can benefit from the online shopping boom to generate revenue for their causes - especially in the run-up to Christmas. 

Online retail at Christmas has been growing naturally year-on-year, however with the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that shoppers will be looking to internet-based options even more in 2020.

Three (and a half) ways charities can benefit from the online shopping boom this Christmas

1. Christmas cards

The first option is the classic Christmas card but this time they're not physical Christmas cards, they are virtual ones.

More and more companies and families are choosing not to send physical Christmas cards and to make a charity donation instead.

If you can put this process online and make it easy for your customer to add their own list of recipients, you can set a recommended donation amount per card. It will also get your charity’s name in front of the card recipients using a well-designed image of your choosing (rather than whatever the card sender might have come up with).

Marie Curie Christmas card ordering page

Marie Curie has achieved this very effectively, and the charity provides useful options and a sliding pricing scale depending on whether you want to send one card or 15+.

2.  Alternative gifts

The second way to benefit from the online shopping boom is to set up your own alternative gift site. This way you can benefit from last-minute gift buyers as well as those people who are shopping for friends, family, or the office secret Santa and who want to add a charitable element to their gift-giving.

An alternative gift site is an online shop where people can buy gifts that are actually donations that represent a specific item that is relevant to your charity. For example, if you support homeless people, the gifts available could include a pair of socks, a sleeping bag, Christmas dinner, a haircut or a personal hygiene kit.

Concern Worldwide alternative gifts site

International development charity, Concern Worldwide, has seen significant revenue increases from their alternative gift site - which we designed and built for them. They have included gifts with a range of functions and price points to maximise the range of buyers they attract, and offer the option of sending a physical card or e-card to the recipient.

SystemSeed's delivery of, our online ethical gifts website, has meant huge improvements to the user experience, security, backend architecture and content editing of the website.

Niamh O’Bryne
Digital Projects Manager, Concern Worldwide

To learn more about how to create and run a great alternative gift site, take a look at our free downloadable guide. It takes you through the benefits of having an alternative gift site for your not-for-profit, things to consider before you start, the winning elements to a successful site, and a case study of the Concern Worldwide site - including results.

3. Have an online wish list

A third way is to establish a wish list on a third-party e-commerce site. Amazon is a popular choice and particularly useful for small charities who use a lot of physical products, such as animal rescues, homeless shelters, or hospices.

All you need to do is create a wish list and add to it a number of items of different price points. Adding an explanation of why you want that specific item will help encourage people to purchase.

Make sure you publicise your wish list in spots like your website, outgoing email messages, and your social media profiles.

This example from The Happy Pants Ranch Animal Sanctuary shows how it looks.

Amazon wishlist for The Happy Pants Ranch & Animal Sanctuary

3.5 Register with Amazon Smile

Encourage your supporters to use Amazon Smile and donate a percentage of their Amazon spend to your non-profit. Any registered charity can take part and there is no cost to your organisation.

This is only half a tip, because the donation amount is 0.5% of net purchases (not including tax and shipping), so your not-for-profit is unlikely to be able to run on Amazon Smile donations alone. However, it’s an easy and zero-cost way to bring in a little more income so it’s worth the minor effort required. 

Happy Pants have also set up Amazon Smile, and as one of their supporters, I can see how much of a contribution I’ve made to them so far.

Amazon Smile summary screen

All your supporters need to do is to go to (or their local version of Amazon), and specify in the settings that they want their purchases to benefit your organisation. Then they simply use each time they want to buy from Amazon, and a percentage of their purchases will go towards your organisation.

Go to to register your organisation.

Similar services

Other sites like easyfundraising do a similar job, and charities can use multiple sites to maximise their income from this type of donation.


To maximise the impact from pre-Christmas shopping, it's important to be ready for the start of the Christmas shopping period.

I recommend getting your Christmas-related campaigns and donation drives ready by the end of October at the latest.

The good news is that there's still time to put these items in place. We can create an alternative gifts site and have it ready to add gifts to within a few short weeks. This is for simple sites, with highly-customised options taking longer.

Even if you're looking for a very customised solution, it's possible to start with something simple that you can make available to your audience quickly. This means that you begin generating income more quickly, and can work on fine-tuning later on with real customer data to guide you on any changes.

This is often called an MVP (minimum viable product) approach, and is a more agile way of working. We do this all the time, and highly recommend that charities and non-profits take a similar approach wherever possible.

For example, you don't need to have 100 items on your Amazon wish list before you start telling all your supporters about it. Start with 10 everyday staple items that you always need and let your audience know that your wishlist is there. 

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