PROSPECT HEIGHTS – The Archdiocese of Washington has entered the world of cryptocurrency.
Catholics can now donate to the Archdiocese — and its parishes and ministries — through Bitcoin, Ethereum, and many other forms of virtual currency, often referred to as “crypto.”
For Joseph Gillmer, the archdiocese’s executive director for development, the introduction of cryptocurrency as a giving medium is another step in his goal of making giving to parishioners as easy as possible by providing them with a variety of ways to donate.
“It wasn’t demand per se,” Gilmer told The Tablet. “It was something that might resonate with some people who have these assets and I want to make sure they know they can use it and how to use it and give them all the instructions they need to do that.” .”
To enable cryptocurrency donations, the archdiocese has partnered with Engiven, a provider of cryptocurrency donation services for nonprofit and religious organizations.
Engiven works with a number of other Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington in the Diocese of Spokane and the Catholic Community Foundation of Southwest Florida in the Diocese of Venice. On the whole, however, hardly any dioceses are involved in cryptocurrency.
James Lawrence, the organization’s co-founder, came up with the idea for the company around 2017 when he wanted to donate bitcoin to a Protestant church or ministry but found none willing to accept it. He said many of them hadn’t even heard of cryptocurrency.
This reality led him and his business partner, Engiven co-founder Matt Hayes, to develop Engiven to educate communities of faith and show them how cryptocurrency can benefit them. Simply put, Lawrence said, “Basic economics makes so much sense.”
“Most organizations aren’t going to receive a large amount of crypto gifts, but when they do, it’s generally between $15,000 and $35,000, and the implementation effort is relatively small,” Lawrence said. “Second…it’s a way to meet community members where they stand in relation to what they want to give.”
“You just don’t know if you have someone who invested in crypto years ago or even recently,” he continued. “We can’t necessarily know why or who, but we can know the possibilities and just make sure we’re giving them a safe, really safe and elegant way to make that donation.”
Lawrence said the average gift on the Engiven platform is between that $15,000 to $35,000 mark, but noted that they receive donations of all different sizes. He said they processed a $10 million Bitcoin donation for a ministry last year and have seen many six-figure donations.
Stephen Barrows is Chief Operating Officer of the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based think tank that promotes free market politics underpinned by religious principles, and has written and spoken about cryptocurrencies.
He told The Tablet that one thing Catholic dioceses and organizations need to look out for when making cryptocurrency donations is to ensure that a cryptocurrency is not involved in anything contrary to church teaching, similar to stocks.
Otherwise, Barrows said, “it’s certainly a way to lower the barriers to giving.”
In the Archdiocese of Washington, the cryptocurrency donation platform runs through its Parish Support Initiative, a program the archdiocese launched in the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic to give parishioners another way to donate to their communities remotely.
A user on the site can select what purpose the cryptocurrency should be donated to and whether the donation is intended for a community can be identified in the note line. From there, a user selects the form of cryptocurrency from which to donate — 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, although Gillmer said the archdiocese will liquidate the donation immediately upon receipt to eliminate any chance of a market impact. It’s the same policy the Archdiocese applies when people donate other forms of property, such as stocks. He also noted that he chose to partner with Engiven partly because of the security protocols and that they have cyber liability insurance.
Partnering with Engiven costs the Archdiocese $1,500 a year, which he says is well worth it. He said another attractive aspect of Engiven is the ability for the archdiocese to create cryptocurrency donation sites for different parishes that can be run independently at no additional cost.
The Archdiocese of Washington has not received a donation since adding the ability to donate in cryptocurrency in late July.