Representatives from three non-profit organizations that accept donations in bitcoins say their groups' freedom- and peace-focused missions mesh with the Bitcoin ethos.
The speakers shared their experience with the cryptocurrency during a panel discussion on Sunday at Bitcoin 2013 in San Jose.
"For Fr33 Aid, we started acepting bitcoins in 2011, we posted our address online, but we didn't get our first donation until early 2012," said Teresa Warmke, treasurer of Fr33 Aid, a New Hampshire-based organization that works to "help individuals organize projects that educate people about the value of mutual aid."
"When we started actually taking it, we called it around the staff, 'the Bitcoin experiment,'" recalled Angela Keaton, director of operations at Antiwar.com. She said her organization converts bitcoin into dollars every few days, although she can sometimes spend bitcoins directly for expenses such as paying consultants.
Carla Gericke said her organization -- the libertarian Free State Project, based in New Hampshire -- also converts most of its bitcoins into US dollars.
Fr33 Aid, on the other hand, is completely bitcoin-based, and strives to keep fewer than 10 US dollars in its bank account, Warmke said. The organization supports volunteers, and many of the volunteers are happy to receive reimbursements or subsidies in bitcoins, she said. Warmke noted that she's gotten some of the bitcoins the nonprofit uses through LocalBitcoins.com, which helps people find local traders for bitcoin transactions.
Warmke added that Bitcoin helps her organization be financially transparent, because anyone can look up the group's transactions in the Bitcoin blockchain.
Accepting bitcoins has helped some of the organizations win support among their target communities, panelists said. Fr33 Aid, for example, noticed a big bump in donations when the group announced it was giving up filing with the IRS and going over to an all-bitcoin system, Warmke said.
"I think what she's really saying is yes, we're willing to accept all the Bitcoin millionaires' donations," Gericke said, laughing.
Sometimes dealing with the "legacy banking system" creates problems that organizations have found they can avoid by using bitcoins instead, panelists said.
Warmke described how Fr33 Aid's PayPal account was locked down twice ... once after the group accepted its first-ever donation of more than $1,000. She ended up paying some expenses out of her own pocket while waiting for the organization's funds to be unlocked.
Panelists acknowledged there are downsides to accepting bitcoins. One disadvantage is the currency's volatility.
"You by default become a currency speculator," Gericke said.
Charities that don't understand that aspect could end up losing a lot of money on a Bitcoin value drop.
The Bitcoin community is ripe to develop its own charitable organizations, panelists said. That could help new businesses set up corporate giving plans as they start to become profitable.
"We're definitely working with Bitcoin not Bombs already to publicize people who have sponsored our work," Warmke said.
Moderator Stephanie Murphy, director of operations for Fr33 Aid, suggested that donors could create a mining pool for charities, or think of other creative ways to support charities with bitcoins.
One thing that is different about accepting bitcoin donations is that nonprofits don't always know who sent them money. Warmke said she would like a way to give donors the opportunity to leave their email address so she could send a thank-you. For now, she just asks bitcoin donors to contact the group when they give.
(The Seasteading Institute, which exhibited at Bitcoin 2013, also accepts bitcoin donations, although the organization did not participate in the panel.)
One final note: Throughout Bitcoin 2013, the non-profit panel was the only discussion CoinDesk attended where all the panelists and the moderator were women. With the addition of a few women sitting in the audience, this session might well have seen the most women gathered in one room for the whole weekend.
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