News and analysis
September 15, 2014

United Way Worldwide Now Accepting Bitcoin Donations

United Way Worldwide is now accepting donations in Bitcoin, the organization said Monday, making it one of the largest nonprofits yet to wade into digital-currency fundraising.

United Way is soliciting Bitcoin for its new Innovation Fund, says the nonprofit’s chief executive Brian A. Gallagher, which will support new approaches to efforts in education, health, and other areas. In addition to accepting Bitcoin, the nonprofit will raise money—in dollars—from corporations and individual donors with a one-year, $2-million goal for the fund, Mr. Gallagher says.

"Bitcoin is becoming more and more accepted, certainly within the world of commerce," Mr. Gallagher says. "We want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to give to United Way or any nonprofit they want to give to."

The Bitcoin donations to the Innovation Fund will be made through Coinbase, an online Bitcoin platform with 36,000 merchants. The digital currency will immediately be converted into dollars, Mr. Gallagher says.

Bitcoin, a decentralized currency exchanged on the Internet without a bank or a broker, is gaining traction in the nonprofit sector. Some nonprofits report having raised thousands of dollars in Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Last month, the BitGive Foundation, a Bitcoin startup that partners with nonprofits to raise money in the digital currency, became the first Bitcoin organization to be designated a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the IRS. In April, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it would give $100 worth of Bitcoin to each undergraduate student to jump-start a digital-currency economy on campus. In January, the University of Cumbria, in England, said it would accept Bitcoin as payment for some courses.

Mr. Gallagher says that he and his colleagues at United Way have not set a goal in terms of how much money they want to raise in Bitcoin because there are few precedents to serve as a guide. Still, they will closely monitor the number of gifts and engagement level of their Bitcoin donors, as well as the use of Bitcoin in other parts of the economy, he says.

Nonprofits were years behind the for-profit sector with online commerce, he points out. He does not want to see that pattern repeated with digital currencies.

"We have an institutional interest, for sure. We also have a sector interest," Mr. Gallagher says of United Way’s decision to accept Bitcoin. "Usually the for-profit business community goes first, but it is important for key players in the nonprofit sector to assess these kinds of opportunities and make go and no-go decisions quickly."

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