The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), informally known as the UK’s fourth emergency service, has announced it is trialling bitcoin donations.
The RNLI says it is the first major charity in the UK to accept bitcoin. It also happens to be one of the oldest charities in the country, as it was founded in 1824.
According to 2013 statistics, the charity’s 400-strong fleet rescue an average of 23 people per day. Since its inception, the RNLI has saved approximately 140,000 lives.
Connecting with new supporters
The pilot programme is already available online. The RNLI donations website now has a bitcoin section, complete with a wallet address and QR code.
The RNLI says it decided to run the trial because it wants to lead the way in accepting and benefiting from all forms of digital currency. It chose bitcoin as a well-established and widely-recognised digital currency.
Leesa Harwood, RNLI Deputy Director of Fundraising and Communications, said the charity has a long history of innovation in fundraising, having held its first street collection in 1891.
“Bitcoin is an innovative new kind of currency and we believe that accepting bitcoin will result in donations we may not otherwise receive, as well as connecting us with new types of supporters,” she said.
“This is a pilot scheme and we are looking forward to seeing how it will proceed as part of our interest in cryptocurrencies and how they may work in the future. We will of course closely monitor how much money is donated. We already have safeguards in place to monitor donations, however we receive them.”
Harwood said that it is “likely” that the RNLI will start receiving digital currency donations at some point, hence the decision to form a project team to test the feasibility of accepting bitcoin.
Luke Willams, a member of RLNI’s bitcoin project team, told CoinDesk that the group has been investigating the use of digital currencies since early 2014.
“We have a regular group that meets to discuss future trends that may impact the RNLI or opportunities that we should investigate. Bitcoin had been mentioned a couple of times and we concluded that at some point in the future we were likely to receive either a donation or legacy in a cryptocurrency.”
Williams added that the RNLI is currently holding its bitcoin donations, but it plans to convert them to fiat as soon as they reach a certain (undisclosed) amount.
Bitcoin for charities
Proponents have been advocating the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in fundraising strategies for years.
The comparatively low price of collecting bitcoin donations, the speed at which transactions can be carried out and the global reach of the bitcoin network all make the currency an attractive option for charities.
Leading bitcoin operators are doing their part to promote the use of bitcoin by charities and other non-profit organisations too. Earlier this week Coinbase announced that it will drop all fees for registered non-profit organisations using its platform.
Last month UK charity Comic Relief announced that it is investigating bitcoin donations, saying it plans to address the issue in the near future.
Cryptocurrencies have already been successfully used for a number of fundraisers. The dogecoin community helped the Jamaican bobsleigh team take part in the Sochi Winter Olympics. Cyrptocurrencies have also been used to support the Indian Olympic team, build water wells in Africa and to help Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto and Hal Finney.