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BitGive and the Rise of Crypto-Altruism

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Dec 19, 2014, 12:08 pm

EspañolConnie Gallippi is the sister of Bitpay cofounder Tony Gallippi, and is now the executive directer of her own bitcoin-based nonprofit, the BitGive Foundation. BitGive is currently the only NGO dedicated to leveraging the power of the cryptocurrency in two major fields: public health and the environment.

The BitGive Foundation has already made history as the first bitcoin charity to be approved in the United States by the IRS.

For the moment, Connie Gallippi is at it alone, in charge of every single activity that happens inside the California-based NGO. She defines multitasking: handling fundraising, branding, marketing, the website, relationship-building with donors and other NGOs, and dealing with the press.

BitGive has linked itself with world renowned organizations such as Save the Children and Techo, and their charitable efforts have so far been remarkably successful. In one day, they managed to raise US$4,850 for victims of the Philippines Typhoon.

Connie Gallipi speaking at the BitConf in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (BitGive)
Connie Gallippi speaking at the BitConf in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (BitGive)

Gallippi’s focus is to demonstrate the social value of bitcoin. Delving into this unexplored side of bitcoin is a “win-win for both charitable organizations and the bitcoin community,” she says.

“Not only are charitable efforts helping those in need, this type of application of bitcoin can help bridge the gap from early adopters to mainstream users.”

I met Gallippi some weeks ago, during the Bit Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She presented her BitGive Foundation and its mission before a packed audience. As two of the only five women present at the event, it was not difficult for us to find each other during a coffee break following her talk.

How did you first hear about bitcoin?

It was through my brother, who is the cofounder of one of the major bitcoin companies. He had been talking to me about bitcoin for a couple of years before I became directly involved with it. About a year and a half ago, I realized I could actually partner my background and interests with bitcoin. That’s when I got more directly involved and started BitGive.

The first idea and concept of BitGive was in May 2013, and we launched in July. It was very quick: only two months to pull things together and launch. As of two weeks ago, I work full-time with the foundation.

In what fields do you think bitcoin can help more people?

In so many. Our focus is in public health and environment, but we very broadly define those areas. I don’t think is there any limits on what bitcoin can do to help others. We chose to focus in those two areas, but we are very broadly defining them so we are not constrained.

Some of the projects we’ve already done — we are very young, so we have done just a few — are disaster relief for the Philippine typhoon effort and relief in the United States for tornadoes that came earlier this year.

Also, we’ve done work in sub-Saharan Africa with the water project. So we are trying to spread around and do a lot of different things.

What about the potential for donation money finding its way in the hands of dictators in places like Africa? Is bitcoin a way around this?

Yes, exactly. The direct transaction from here to anywhere in the world, in this case Africa, is what I was talking on my speech before.

You don’t have to go through 10 different steps, and each time charge you a fee or a transaction cost, opening it up to fraud, or having it get stuck in the government. There is a lot of corruption even in formalized government structures.

Do you think your NGO helps to build a positive image of bitcoin in contrast to money laundry and terrorism finance?

People around the world can donate to BitGive by scanning this QR code.
People around the world can donate to BitGive by scanning this QR code. (BitGive)

I think it is essential to have the more positive side of bitcoin better represented and in an organized and professional way through a known and trusted organization like BitGive. We represent the community and their desire to give back and do good. Of course this is beneficial, as it balances and counters the negative stories and news around bitcoin.

BitGive has a history of supporting charities and will continue to build that over time to show a consistent and long-term commitment from the bitcoin community to give back. We are only getting started and we are here to stay!

What would you say to the foundations that are not yet accepting bitcoin donations yet?

The most popular benefit you get when you receive bitcoins is the reduction in costs and fees. NGOs can’t even get microdonations because the fees are so high that it is not cost effective. Bitcoin opens up to microdonations and crowdsourcing, but it also eliminates all the fees and transaction costs. That is probably the number one and the easiest things for NGOs to come on board with.

Then you could talk about the direct, peer-to-peer transactions. I think is that is appreciative too, because the multiple steps they have to go through [without bitcoin] takes a lot of time. [Without peer-to-peer], that’s also where the corruption can come in. Those two would be the first two if you are starting.

How is fundraising going for BitGive right now?

It is very difficult right now. We actually did very well a few months ago when we came out with our news that the IRS approved us as a tax-exempt organization in the United States.

It was very good news; it was precedent setting. We are the first bitcoin charity to be approved by the IRS.

After that, we actually did quite well, and we ran a founding-donors campaign. People were very excited to support the organization. Now, the climate is a little bit different; the value is down for bitcoin.

What is the relationship between the value of bitcoin and the donations?

Numbers are down across the board as far as purchasing, buying, donations, and everything else right now. Whereas, in comparison to this time last year, bitcoin was at its peek at US$1,100, and there were all sorts of activities.

Bitcoin Black Friday was a big success last year, was it not?

Yes, it absolutely was.

For the merchant side, I don’t know the numbers, but for the charity side we did extremely well. There were 30 charities and over a million dollars, collectively, was raised. It was huge.

Does BitGive accept donations other than bitcoin?

BitGive is selling T-shirts to raise money for their foundation.
BitGive is selling T-shirts to raise money for their foundation. (BitGive)

We do accept them; we do not turn them away, but donations in bitcoin is our preference. But we would never turn away a cash donation.

Usually, what we will would do is purchase bitcoin with the cash. Ninety percent or more of our assets are held in bitcoin, and that is kind of the whole concept of the foundation.

We do need some cash to operate. If we get a large cash donation, and we need cash at the time, then I will not go and buy bitcoin with it. But, otherwise, we will purchase bitcoin and it goes into the endowment.

Have you received any discouragement from people about starting a bitcoin foundation?

No, I haven’t. It’s actually been very well received and really well supported, which is great. Friends and family have been really supportive.

And on a professional level, I’ve had people coming up to me nonstop here at the conference, and constant emails coming in; everyone is really into it.

Our biggest challenge is fundraising. It’s very challenging as a nonprofit, because you have to be constantly fundraising in order to keep the momentum going.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.