As the biggest cryptocurrencies flirt with record high values, they’re increasingly becoming bigger sources of revenue for charities. However, the number of charities accepting the virtual currencies, known for their volatility, remains limited.
Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, hit nearly $69,000 for the first time in its history last week, roaring back after sinking below $30,000 during the summer. The value of ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, also hit a record high.
Both cryptocurrencies have dropped from their record levels after helping push the overall market cap of cryptocurrencies past $3 trillion, according to CoinGecko pricing. As of Monday morning, CoinMarketCap, another popular measure, listed the market cap at $2.8 trillion.
So far this year, Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker, has received more than $274 million in cryptocurrency contributions — nearly quadruple its prior record of $69 million in 2017, according to a company spokesperson. And the cryptocurrency donation platform Engiven said last month it accepted what it called the largest single Bitcoin donation known to date: a $10 million Bitcoin gift to an undisclosed faith-based organization.
Many large charities and international aid agencies, like The American Red Cross and Save the Children, have set up mechanisms to accept cryptocurrencies or are using platforms that help them convert them into cash right away. But smaller organizations — who make up the vast majority of registered nonprofits in the country — are attempting to figure out how to accept these currencies, or if it even makes sense for them to do so, said Rick Cohen, the chief communications and operating officer at the National Council on Nonprofits.
“For a lot of organizations, it feels a little bit scary because it’s not the contribution of dollars that they’re used to,” Cohen said.
“It’s not something that’s free and easy” to set up, he said. “And they need to figure out if there’s even demand from their current donors to be able to do it.”
The global humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger started accepting cryptocurrency donations last year after a group of donors approached them about taking the assets, said Aron Flasher, who manages corporate partnerships for the organization. Since then, he says they’ve raised more than $1 million from virtual currencies.
“We feel like we’ve brought our issues to a very diverse cohort of supporters that we may not be reaching otherwise,” Flasher said. “And so far, all of our projections show it’s just going to increase.”
A Pew Research Center survey released last week indicated 16% of Americans have invested, traded or otherwise used cryptocurrencies in some way. Driven by interest from millennials, the digital currencies have become more mainstream since Bitcoin’s creation in 2009 but skeptics say their use is just a passing fad.
Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said in September investors lacked enough protection in the cryptocurrency market, which he called “rife with fraud, scams and abuse” and compared it to the “Wild West.” Regulators have noted that the digital assets pose more risks for money laundering, terrorist financing and other crimes. And some countries have moved to outlaw the transactions.
Cryptocurrencies are an attractive asset to donate because they allow donors to bypass the capital gains tax. Donors would be subject to that tax if they convert the virtual currency into cash before giving it away, which means less money could go to their selected charity. Another bonus is an income tax deduction.
Tax savings, according to the small number of cryptocurrency owners who donated some of their holdings to charity, was a driving force behind their crypto gifts, Fidelity Charitable reported in October. Many of those investors also reported difficulty finding organizations that accepted the virtual currencies, which could be volatile for charities to hold.
The volatility in the crypto world is the reason why some giving platforms and donor-advised fund sponsors, like Fidelity Charitable, convert them into cash right away.
Fidelity places the cash from crypto in a donor-advised fund, which allows donors to get tax deductions upfront before distributing any of the money to a working charity.
“You can have a situation where somebody donates cryptocurrency, and if we don’t sell it right away, it could lose 20% of its value in a day,” said Tony Oommen, a vice president and charity planning consultant at Fidelity Charitable.
“Or It could go the opposite direction,” Oommen added. “But we don’t try to speculate on that.”
Fluctuating prices aren’t the only concern. The environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace stopped taking Bitcoin earlier this year, citing environmental worries associated with mining the digital currency. Despite this pullback, James Lawrence, the CEO of the donation platform Engiven, says he believes the majority of nonprofits will begin accepting crypto donations within the next five years.