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NEW YORK – The Archdiocese of Washington has entered the world of cryptocurrency.
Catholics can now make donations to the archdiocese – and its parishes and ministries – through Bitcoin, Ethereum, and many other forms of the virtual currency often referred to as “crypto.”
For Joseph Gillmer, the archdiocese’s executive director of development, the addition of cryptocurrency as a donation medium is another step in his goal to make it as easy as possible for parishioners to donate by giving them a multitude of ways to do so.
“It wasn’t demand per se,” Gillmer told Crux. “It was that this is something that might resonate with some people who have these assets and I want to make sure that they know they can use it and how to use it and give them all of the instructions they need to be able to do that.”
To make cryptocurrency donations possible, the archdiocese partnered with Engiven, a provider of cryptocurrency donation services to nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
Engiven works with a few other Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington in the Diocese of Spokane, and the Catholic Community Foundation of Southwest Florida in the Diocese of Venice. By and large, though, hardly any dioceses are involved in cryptocurrency.
James Lawrence, the organization’s co-founder, had the idea for the company around 2017 when he wanted to donate Bitcoin to a Protestant church or ministry, but couldn’t find any that accepted it. He said many of them hadn’t even heard of cryptocurrency.
That reality led him and his business partner, Engiven co-founder Matt Hayes, to develop Engiven to educate and show faith entities that they can benefit from cryptocurrency. Simply put, Lawrence said “the basic economics of it makes so much sense.”
“Most organizations won’t receive a huge volume of crypto gifts, but when they do it generally will be between $15,000-$35,000 and the implementation effort is relatively low,” Lawrence said. “Secondly … it’s a way to meet parishioners where they are in terms of what they want to give.”
“You just don’t know if you have someone who has invested in crypto years ago or even recently,” he continued. “We can’t necessarily know why or who, but we can know the opportunities there and just make sure that we present them with a secure, really safe, elegant way to make that donation.”
Lawrence said the average gift on the Engiven platform is between that $15,000-$35,000 mark, noting, however, that they receive donations of all different sizes. He said last year they processed a $10 million Bitcoin donation for a ministry, and have seen many other six figure donations to ministries.
Stephen Barrows is the Chief Operating Officer of the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based think tank promoting free market policies undergirded by religious principles, and has written and spoken about cryptocurrency.
He told Crux that one thing Catholic dioceses and organizations may have to look out for with cryptocurrency donations is making sure a cryptocurrency isn’t involved in anything that goes against church teaching, similar to the approach with stocks.
Otherwise, Barrows said, “it’s certainly one way to lower the obstacles to giving.”
In the Archdiocese of Washington, the cryptocurrency donation platform runs through its Parish Support Initiative, a program the archdiocese began during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic to give parishioners another way to donate to their parishes from afar.
A user on the page can choose which cause to donate the cryptocurrency to, and if the donation is intended for a parish it can be identified in the memo line. From there a user chooses the form of cryptocurrency they’re donating from – more than 90 are accepted – and then enters their name, email address, phone number, and other typical online form questions.
Crypto is considered a highly volatile market, though Gillmer said the archdiocese liquidates the donation right when it’s received to eliminate any chance of a market impact. It’s the same policy the archdiocese uses when people donate other forms of property like stocks. He also noted that he chose to partner with Engiven in part because of its security protocols and that it has cyber liability insurance in place.
The partnership with Engiven costs the archdiocese $1,500 a year, which he said is well worth it. He said another appealing aspect of Engiven is the ability for the archdiocese to make cryptocurrency donation pages for different parishes to operate on their own at no additional cost.
The Archdiocese of Washington hasn’t received a donation since it added the ability to donate in cryptocurrency at the end of July. Gillmer said he isn’t surprised. He said he doesn’t expect more than a few donations this year, and about 10-25 donations a year once the opportunity becomes more well-known.
Gillmer, though, emphasized that the expectation isn’t and never was a big wave of giving.
“I won’t be surprised if there’s just a few in this first year, and that’s OK with me because again, it’s not about that it’s going to raise so much money,” Gillmer said. “It’s about making sure that we have as many ways as possible for someone to support us and that they’re choosing what might be best for them.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg