BitGive, the first bitcoin 501(c)(3) nonprofit recognized by the U.S. government, marked its fifth anniversary in 2018. BitGive is a funding platform that accepts and sends donations in bitcoin (digital money) with a blockchain (a digital network and ledger). It distributes the funds to nonprofits quickly, cheaply and securely—taking advantage of some of blockchain technology’s most lauded features. At the end of 2018, BitGive launched a new version of its flagship donation platform, GiveTrack 1.0.
Blockchain technology and the cryptocurrencies like bitcoin that use it are starting to make waves in philanthropy, as we recently reported.
BitGive specializes in directing bitcoin donations to nonprofits that work under the broad umbrellas of public health and the environment. It has served as a fundraising platform for established nonprofits like the Water Project, Save the Children, TECHO and Medic Mobile. Its campaigns generally raise thousands, making its programs similar in scale to crowdfunding efforts, though one of the recently completed projects on the site took in $17,000.
How BitGive Works
A potential donor to a BitGive-linked nonprofit must first possess bitcoin, which can be purchased at a digital currency exchange like Coinbase. Sending bitcoin is often said to be as simple as using email—while this may be a slight exaggeration, both the exchange sites and BitGive offer accessible instructions. Bitcoin donations are secured on the blockchain network through advanced computer encryption. They are also tracked and visible online and are verifiable right away, even when crossing international borders. This level of transparency is a coveted trait within the philanthrosphere, and is a signature offering of BitGive and its GiveTrack systems. And GiveTrack’s blockchain-reliant method is cost-efficient—less than 1 percent of donations to partner nonprofits are spent on fees. Donors know the majority of their funds go directly and promptly to the organizations they choose.
“GiveTrack can help charities reach their goals without friction or fraud,” BitGive Founder and Executive Director Connie Gallippi has said. To prepare a project for funding, a nonprofit identifies the costs for its program along with planned milestones. Once funded in bitcoin, all related purchases the nonprofit makes are then viewable on the GiveTrack platform. If the funds raised are converted into local currency, the transaction information is entered into the platform to ensure complete data tracking. GiveTrack’s reporting system provides donors with notifications of milestones and updates from charity representatives in the field.
BitGive unveiled four new campaigns in late 2018 to kick off the launch of the newest platform and ran a corresponding fundraiser. These latest projects include Code to Inspire, the first coding academy for girls in Herat, Afghanistan; Desafio Levantemos Chile, a microfinance organization that plans to provide low-income children with sports equipment; America Solidaria, which will develop leadership skills for young people who are involved with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030; and Run for Water, which is raising funds to bring clean water to the community of Waraba, Ethiopia.
Two blockchain companies, Rootstock (RSK), which designed GiveTrack’s updated bitcoin contract platform, and Bloq donated $5,000 each to the fundraiser, which was evenly shared between the four new nonprofits. The newest iteration of the GiveTrack system has an updated technology stack under the hood, enhanced digital security and easier sign-up processes for donors and nonprofits.
“New nonprofits and projects can on-board to the platform at any time,” Gallippi tells Inside Philanthropy. An organization simply needs to visit the “Start a Project” feature on the homepage to begin.
Enduring Challenges in Crypto-Philanthropy
Gallippi, whose background is in fundraising for environmental nonprofits, came up with the idea for this cryptocurrency-philanthropy platform while attending a bitcoin conference in 2013, and she launched the organization two months later. BitGive accepts donations in crypto or fiat currencies to cover its operating costs. Its revenue was less than $50,000 in 2013. By 2017, it had risen to about $2.7 million.
But running a philanthropy platform on digital currency brings unique challenges, including market volatility—bitcoin’s value fell sharply in 2018. As we’ve covered, another area of difficulty for this method of giving is the uncoordinated way governments around the world are interacting with and struggling to find a foothold in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. As Gallippi tells us, “There are still many regulatory uncertainties and barriers, especially in the U.S.” In America, branches of government and individual states vary in how they categorize and police cryptocurrencies and related activities.
Cryptocurrencies can sometimes reach and empower people in remote areas who don’t have access to stable banking services but do have the internet. However, these communities often lack the infrastructure to explore or take advantage of the possibilities of blockchain technology and crypto-based economics.
Gallippi explains: “There are minimal options for last-mile uses of cryptocurrency or liquidity or conversion services, especially in emerging economies and remote areas. These challenges make it difficult to scale the use of bitcoin or blockchain technology beyond simply converting bitcoin donations into regular currency.”
Despite these obstacles, Gallippi remains an ardent champion of crypto-philanthropy and a believer in the diverse manifestations of blockchain for good. She is often featured in lists of the top women in blockchain—a sector which, like much of tech, is traditionally male-majority, especially in terms of leadership. And while philanthropy has its share of women at the top, there is still a disproportionate number of male leaders in this field, as well.
On being a female leader in blockchain and philanthropy, Gallippi says, “Women and, frankly, most anyone from a diverse background, are often a minority—less than 5 percent—and at times, have to endure some of the biases and perspectives that persist from a very old or traditional way of thinking.”
Gallippi has observed some growth of the female cohort in the crypto-world, though she still sees room for improvement. “Excited to be seeing more women speakers at bitcoin events! #raisetheratio,” she tweeted a few years back. She said more recently, in late 2018, that when people ask her why there aren’t more women working with bitcoin and blockchain, she replies: “Actually, there are. They’re just not given the same level of exposure or recognition. That’s the problem.”
We’re keeping an eye on Gallippi, BitGive, and other crypto-philanthropy organizations like BitHope and GiveCrypto, to see how they adapt and evolve.