In a Nutshell: Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the way people, including consumers and nonprofit organizations, transact. BitGive helps nonprofits access and leverage the benefits of blockchain technology to fund their operations and manage their finances. Blockchain’s fast, low-cost transactions enable donors to contribute to worthy causes easily. BitGive also provides reports from its partners on how they use the funds, ensuring transparency in operations and accounting. In addition to supporting nonprofits, BitGive also operates an emergency relief fund that focuses on helping those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
When Connie Gallippi attended her first Bitcoin conference, she was there to support her brother Tony, founder of the early Bitcoin company BitPay. Gallippi was familiar with cryptocurrency and the underlying blockchain technology. Still, throughout the conference, she found herself caught up in the creative energy and enthusiasm at the event.
Before the gathering ended, she started mentally working out how to apply what she had learned there to her work helping environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) obtain funding.
That concept became BitGive, the first Bitcoin and blockchain-based nonprofit organization approved by the U.S. government in 2013.
“They’re all doing such important work. It’s critical work in many cases,” said Gallippi, Founder and Executive Director of BitGive. “If cryptocurrency is going to be the next dot-com boom, there has to be a philanthropic arm or institution of some kind. And there is a dedicated focus on giving back and siphoning off even just a fraction of what could happen to ensure there’s an impact on the social realm — especially globally.”
BitGive developed the GiveTrack platform, which connects nonprofits to donors who contribute Bitcoin and other cryptos, as well as fiat, with the support of Uphold. But the BitGive team’s real passion is helping NGOs leverage emerging blockchain and crypto technology to fund projects while maintaining a high standard of transparency, efficiency, and global impact.
“From my experience in working with nonprofits, they’re very well educated and experienced in their particular areas,” Gallippi said. “And if you work globally, all the locations have different concerns and issues to deal with. We’re focused on supporting nonprofits that are already out there doing great work and providing them with tools to do it better and more efficiently.”
Bitcoin represents another way for nonprofits to accept donations, and the crypto can easily be converted into fiat to pay for expenses and projects. But the greater value of cryptocurrency lies in the speed and efficiency of the core blockchain technology.
“What we’re focused on is leveraging the technology and demonstrating it as a real use case with the donors and nonprofits that are doing the work,” Gallippi said. “They can first accept donations in crypto, but the beauty lies in then keeping them in cryptocurrency and moving them globally. You can use it locally, but the benefit is cross-border transfers that can happen within minutes.”
Blockchain networks never sleep. They are constantly running, so they always allow people to transmit crypto from one point to another around the globe. The funds can be sent and received in a matter of minutes, even across international borders. And transactions cost a fraction of traditional payment and transfer services, without the additional cost of converting one currency to another.
Funds transmitted over blockchain networks move directly from sender to recipient, and only the intended recipient possesses the private key necessary to access the funds. Both parties can monitor the transaction in real time via the public ledger.
“To me, it’s just mind-boggling,” Gallippi said. “With GiveTrack, we brought that all into one place and leveraged it for both donors and nonprofits. So there’s a lot more going on than just donating in crypto.”
Donors must trust that their funds are going to actual nonprofits and not frauds, as is the case with many online transactions. BitGive thoroughly vets nonprofits before onboarding them to the GiveTrack platform to ensure the public can contribute with confidence.
For U.S.-based nonprofits, BitGive uses a proprietary API that connects with GuideStar — a nonprofit reporting service. When a nonprofit enters its employer identification number (EIN), the API automatically checks GuideStar’s system and verifies that the organization is a legitimate nonprofit. It also ensures that it is in compliance with regulations and is clear of concerns from the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control, which enforces economic and trade sanctions. For non-U.S.-based nonprofits, all of the same info is collected, but manually.
“Every country’s different,” Gallippi said. “We usually ask for their registration number in another country, their documentation. We prefer that they have an official domain and email we can verify. When you’re dealing with money, you have to ensure that you’re not facilitating funds going to someone who’s pretending to be an organization. It can be tricky.”
BitGive collects reports from beneficiaries in two ways. The first is informal updates on purchased supplies and how donations are funding operations in the field. The second mode is more formal and detail-oriented.
“When they set up the projects, they can break them down into milestones as to how they will implement the project, and can report incrementally,” Gallippi said. “They can provide a narrative, and they can provide photos, but they also have to explain the blockchain transactions that are moving it. We ask them to show details and be transparent about that.”
BitGive’s current mission is to partner with proactive organizations and teach them about the benefits of blockchain technology. But in the early days of Bitcoin, when cryptocurrency was still new, BitGive operated campaigns and collected funds on behalf of nonprofits.
“It was an easy way for us to build relationships,” Gallippi said.
Following the success of those early in-house campaigns, Gallippi said she and her team wanted to establish a general relief fund for future disasters and emergencies that didn’t rely on crypto. But before that initiative could get off the ground, a genuine emergency arose in the form of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid the life-and-death crisis in public health, Gallippi said she knew that the last thing nonprofits had time to do was learn about blockchain.
“We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to try it out since it’s a global pandemic,” Gallippi said. “If we want to do this, we should do it now and at least pilot it and learn from it, and then we can carry it forward.”
Collections for the relief fund started strong with large donations from RSK and IOV Labs, whose smart contract technology BitGive deploys on its platform. BitGive also received a contribution from Bitcoin.tax, another of its partners — and through crowdfunding from a host of concerned, supportive online philanthropists.
The energy and enthusiasm Gallippi felt at that first BitCoin conference has stayed with her through its current iteration and continues to drive her forward.
“All the ingredients were there that just made such a magical energy,” Gallippi said. “I already knew about the technology and was very inspired by it. But when I was in this event surrounded by this energy, it seemed like it was going to be even bigger.”
That promise inspired not only GiveTrack but also other improvements and offerings, including institutional solutions aimed at making GiveTrack more scalable and efficient are in the works.
“It’s much better for scaling the platform, and it has a lot of benefits,” Gallippi said. “We have a lot of behind-the-scenes work happening now that hopefully will be public in the coming weeks and months. And that’s largely where our focus has been.”
The platform also added the ability to accept fiat donations through PayPal. Many people are using this method to donate to the Covid-19 relief fund, said Gallippi. And although it’s the latest innovation, it’s certainly not the last.
“We’re really at the beginning,” Gallippi said. “We have a lot of ideas, improvements, and all kinds of things we want to do. We are strategically figuring out what we want to do based on the resources we have. But there are a lot of new things coming.”