Local company is a Bitcoin nonprofit supporting charities
Way back in 2015, when Bitcoin was only a few years old, the online news site CCN reported on the potential of the cryptocurrency and the blockchain that supports it to revolutionize charitable giving. The the story began: “The benefits of blockchain technology are creating new operating models for many types of organizations. Charities, which manage large amounts of money, require complex accounting and conduct a lot of research, have much to gain from blockchain technology as digital transactions and smart technology increase.”
The story went on to discuss a report by the London-based Charities Aid Foundation, which examined how blockchain technology might affect the way charities raise money and operate. Back then, nonprofit Bitcoin companies were few and far between. Even today, there are relatively few compared to for-profit companies—but people have taken notice of Bitcoin’s potential to drive philanthropy, and stories like the one that ran on CCN are all over the internet. Still, many locals may be unaware that Truckee is home to one such non-profit.
Founded by Connie Gallippi, BitGive lays claim to the title of first Bitcoin 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Gallippi started the company in 2013 after having worked 15 years for various nonprofits in the Sacramento area.
“My brother, actually, was involved in the early days of Bitcoin … so that’s originally how I heard about it,” Gallippi said. “At first, I was just really inspired by the potential and the possibilities, but when I actually decided to start BitGive was when I immersed myself in the energy of it.”
She accompanied her brother and his business partner to a Bitcoin conference in Silicon Valley.
“So I went, and I didn’t have any intention of getting professionally involved,” she said. “I was in a senior role at that point in my former career. But I was immersed in the energy of this sort of budding industry, and it was powerful. … There were investors walking around, Silicon Valley-level curious investors—and these sort of really brilliant, developer-types and engineers who’d caught onto this too. The combination of those things was really quite magical. … My immediate thought was, ’If this takes off like the Dot Com Boom, they need a philanthropic foundation—an arm of some sort to give back, to siphon off a fraction of what’s going to happen here to move the needle on issues.”
Since attending the conference six years ago, Gallippi has worked to bring her vision to life. When BitGive launched its GiveTrack 1.0 donation platform in December, it got a write up in Forbes Magazine. The platform is designed to boost transparency in the giving process, allowing donors to give directly to causes they care about. Plus, the blockchain—a shared public ledger that records all transactions and who owns what at any given time—lets donors see their money move in basically real-time.
“The tech itself, it allows you to move money—especially cross-border, but, really, anywhere—much faster and cheaper and more securely,” Gallippi said. “So it’s like a completely separate system from the traditional, you know, institutions and government systems that we use. It’s like the internet—when the internet came out and we could write an email instead of putting it in the mail and relying on the post office. You could send money right now to someone in east Africa almost instantly, and they would get it directly.”
In fact, BitGive has been involved with charities in Kenya, as well as the Philippines, Mexico, the U.S., Brazil, Nepal, South Africa, New Zealand, Ghana, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Chile and other countries. Current charities raising money through BitGive’s GiveTrack include Run for Water, which is fundraising to bring the community of Waraba, Ethiopia, fresh drinking water; Code To Inspire Inc., the first computer coding school for girls in Afghanistan; a charity running three projects in Venezuela to help orphans, pets and hospitals; and a group raising funds to secure bone marrow donors for cancer patients in the Ukraine. These projects are in the fundraising stage. There are several more that have finished this stage.
“We have three that are under implementation, so they’ll start using the funds—and we’ll be able to see them moving on the blockchain. And then they’ll be reporting on what they’ve done. So we haven’t quite seen the full, like, A-to-Z experience yet of the version-one product until we have some of those projects done and reported on. But that’s coming soon.”
Charities preparing to use their donated Bitcoin isn’t the only new thing for BitGive. The company also formed a new partnership in April with Uphold, a digital money platform that’s been integrated with GiveTrack, allowing donors to give to any of the charitable projects on the GiveTrack platform using cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash and Dash as well as 23 traditional global currencies. Before this, donations on GiveTrack could only made in Bitcoin.
Gallippi believes the these new technologies have the potential to restore the public’s faith in charities and philanthropy—a faith that has been shaken in recent years by widespread news reports of fraud by traditional charitable organizations. And being able to donate using a regular currency that’s then converted to Bitcoin will bring in non-Bitcoin donors. But the recipients of the donations still need to be able to use Bitcoin, at least to a degree.
“They essentially fundraise in Bitcoin—and they can take it as far as we can,” Gallippi said. “We help them figure out if there are merchants and vendors and ways they can use it. If there aren’t, then they have to exchange it for their local currency. … We’re really holding their hands throughout the whole process—because this stuff is really brand new. No one knows, really, how to use it. Even people in the developed countries who say they’re experts in Bitcoin or cryptocurrency are really just trading it or holding it and analyzing the market. They don’t actually know, really, how to use it or what might be happening in some developing economy about crypto.”
Often, it can be difficult to use cryptocurrency in developing countries. Not many places accept it, and sometimes governments even have a ban on it. Gallippi is hoping that in the coming years, regulations surrounding its use—here and abroad—and the technology necessary to make it possible will advance.
“The investment so far in this industry, in this technology, has been very focused on completely other things besides what we’re doing,” she said. “So everyone is investing in trading and investing in coins and exchanges in the developed world—First World stuff. So it’s all about basically recreating Wall Street in crypto. This has nothing to do with the people in Kenya whom we want to help. So, until the industry invests in building out an ecosystem that includes developing economies and developing countries—in ways to use crypto or in ways to at least convert it—we have a challenge of actually, really, leveraging what the possibilities are.”