Crypto Catholics? Archdiocese of Washington first to accept cryptocurrency donations

The Archdiocese of Washington says it’s 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 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, noting that the option launched on July 29. It also said any donations it receives will be converted into cash 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 added. “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 2021, cryptocurrencies have plummeted, according to The Wall Street Journal and other outlets. The Journal noted that by the second quarter of this year, the total market value had fallen to about $890 billion.

According to cryptocurrency exchange Gemini Trading Group, which tracks industry-wide data, 20% of Americans in 2021 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 Pompeal College of Business.

That appreciation — a $2,200 investment in 2018 now stands at $22,000, he noted — 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 only spent a 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 a create some buzz.”

But 18 months into what The Salvation Army’s Western U.S.A. 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 added that such donations are occasional, similar to periodic gifts of gold coins at the group’s shopping mall collection kettles seen around the holidays.

Cryptocurrencies, like 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.

Both the Archdiocese of Washington and The Salvation Army selected Engiven, a San Diego, California-based cryptocurrency donation services company, to process gifts.

James Lawrence, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said the firm has varying programs for organizations, with commissions ranging from 3% to 4% per transaction and less for those who get an annual subscription or a “bespoke” plan.

He said those fees were analogous to the credit card processing fees 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 security, it’s a pretty fair deal for the service that’s being offered.”