No one wanted to donate cryptocurrency.
James Lawrence, who founded Engiven to help nonprofits and especially churches process crypto donations, thought that surely a some of the owners of Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum, Zcash, Tron, Polkadot, or the hundreds of other new and emerging cryptocurrencies would want to give a bit of it away.
But even as these decentralized, digital mediums of exchange grew more popular, 2019 and 2020 were like a desert for the startup.
By the beginning of 2021, Engiven had had a grand total of 40 customers.
“We built the platform. We figured out how to do it,” Lawrence said. “Then we’re like, ‘Someone’s going to come to the game, right?’ But there were very few.”
Then something changed in 2021. The percentage of Americans aged 18 to 49 who own Bitcoin, the most well-known cryptocurrency, rose to 13 percent, roughly the same as the percent who invest directly in the stock market. In April, Coinbase, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, made its stock market debut, giving cryptocurrency increased legitimacy.
At the same time, the value of cryptocurrency started rising. One Bitcoin was worth about $8,000 at the start of 2020. The same coin was worth $32,000 at the start of 2021 and rose to a peak of $68,000 in November.
Investors who sell their cryptocurrencies are responsible for capital gains taxes but can reduce the amount they owe the government by making charitable donations.
The time for crypto donations finally came, and by the fall of 2021, Engiven had processed contributions for more than 700 nonprofits, including the Salvation Army, Compassion International, and Ronald McDonald House Charities. Engiven processed one $10 million Bitcoin donation and has seen several six-figure donations, Lawrence said.
About 400 of those recipients are churches—some quite large—but many small and medium congregations are now receiving crypto donations as well, Lawrence said. Church donations have become common enough that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability recently recorded a webinar about the potential ministry impact of cryptocurrency.
Fern Creek United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has been accepting cryptocurrency for a while. Longtime member Tim Totten said he and several other members were involved in Bitcoin and realized there were considerable tax benefits to donating some of it. Several regular members decided they wanted to give to the church that way, and when Fern Creek set up the system, they started receiving donations from nonmembers too.
They have received “$5, $10, $20 donations—some a little bigger,” Totten said. “As far as we can tell, they want to be totally anonymous. They just drip across the website, and they think, ‘That’s something I want to support.’”
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