The Archdiocese of Washington says it is happy to accept cryptocurrency donations, even if parishioners can’t physically put Bitcoin into a collection plate. It’s believed to be the first Catholic diocese in America to announce the capability.
The archdiocese, which has 655,000 members in the District of Columbia and five counties in Maryland, said Tuesday that it will use a donation services company to process the gifts to various Catholic ministries, including the Parish Support Initiative, which helps fund food pantries and hot meal programs.
The archdiocese reported no cryptocurrency donations so far and noted that the option started on July 29. It said any donations will be converted into cash immediately and sent to the church.
Joseph Gillmer, the archdiocese’s executive director of development, said via email that while donations of cryptocurrency are in a category similar to gifts of stocks or bonds, the potential for high-dollar donations is greater.
“The number of gifts received may be small relative to traditional ways of giving, but the average amount of each gift is likely to be many multiples higher,” he said.
“I see crypto giving as yet another way for donors to support charitable causes,” Mr. Gillmer said. “It is part of a philosophy of making it easier for donors to accomplish their philanthropic goals by being as flexible as possible.”
Since reaching a peak of $3 trillion in market value in November, cryptocurrencies have plummeted, according to The Wall Street Journal and other outlets. The Journal noted that the total market value had fallen to about $890 billion by the second quarter of this year.
According to cryptocurrency exchange Gemini Trading Group, which tracks industrywide data, 20% of Americans last year said they held cryptocurrency, creating a large pool of potential donors.
“Even though Bitcoin is down over 50% from its high, if you got people who invested in Bitcoin four years ago, they’re still up 10 times what they were when they bought it,” said cryptocurrency expert David Sacco, a practitioner in residence at the University of New Haven’s Pompea College of Business.
A $2,200 investment in 2018 now stands at $22,000. Mr. Sacco said appreciation could result in a hefty capital gains bite if that Bitcoin is converted into cash. Donate it to a charity, Mr. Sacco said, and you get the $22,000 tax deduction even if you spent only a small fraction of that in cash to acquire the asset.
Still, he doesn’t anticipate a rush of cryptocurrency donations to charities.
“I think donating with cryptocurrency will be about as popular as people using cryptocurrency to buy things,” Mr. Sacco said. “It’s out there, people use it to generate publicity, but I don’t think there’s a place whether it’s people buying textbooks with crypto or people who donate money, [except] to create some buzz.”
Still, 18 months into what the Salvation Army’s Western USA region calls its online CryptoKettle, the evangelical organization has notched $121,502 in cryptocurrency donations, an official said.
“It’s a new way of people being able to give,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Smith, the Salvation Army’s communication secretary in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
He said such donations are occasional, similar to periodic gifts of gold coins in collection kettles at shopping centers during the winter holiday season.
Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, are encrypted data streams that are monitored by the members of a secure computer network called a blockchain, which acts as a ledger for transactions.
The Archdiocese of Washington and The Salvation Army selected Engiven, a San Diego cryptocurrency donation services company, to process gifts.
CEO and co-founder James Lawrence said the company has varying programs for organizations. Commission fees range from 3% to 4% per transaction and less for those with an annual subscription or a “bespoke” plan, he said.
Mr. Lawrence said those fees were analogous to the credit card processing fees that nonprofits pay when taking donations.
“Service fees are just part of the kind of the nature of how money is moved,” Mr. Lawrence said. “If someone donates $1,000 to one of our clients, and Engiven gets 3% of that, or $30, we view that as a really good value. The level of complexity that’s involved in exchanging it and staying compliant and secure, it’s a pretty fair deal for the service that’s being offered.”