United Way Worldwide began accepting bitcoin donations to support its Innovation Fund earlier this month, a move that was widely discussed, given that United Way is one of the largest privately held nonprofits in the world, raising more than $5bn annually.
Nearly 20% of the contributions the Innovation Fund receives are from people employed by corporate partners, including Bank of America, Exxon Mobile, General Electric, ING Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co and the National Football League (NFL). However, according to United Way executive VP and chief strategy officer Evan Hochberg, bitcoin is a way to bolster individual contributions to the Innovation Fund.
As such, Hochberg said that United Way aims to continue to engage the bitcoin community as it seeks to diversify the contributions it receives.
Hochberg told CoinDesk:
"Our engaging bitcoin was a recognition there's a fast-growing, innovative, passionate group of people looking to make charitable donations based on the interest in using this currency. We wanted to be at the forefront of that conversation."
The United Way Innovation Fund is a division of the charity dedicated to updating solving global challenges with new technologies and innovations.
Investing in innovation
Hochberg called the integration a pathway for investing and donating to the fund and its larger goal of using technology, relationships and efficiency to power change in the social sector.
He said it was the innovation team that helped steer the rest of the organisation toward a greater understanding of bitcoin and the opportunity the technology presented for United Way's operations.
However, this is a learning process for the organisation, Hochberg said, not necessarily a point of view on bitcoin. Rather, United Way saw enough potential in the bitcoin community to motivate it to become marketable to that group.
"Our first lend was not so much trying to move everybody as it was making sure that for this small but growing group of bitcoin users that we were early, attractive and engaged. […] Obviously by accepting it, it is an acknowledgement that this is growing in interest and relevancy."
However, he added: "I would anticipate United Way opening up other parts of our program – other kinds of direct work – through bitcoin at some point."
Hochberg said that, for the United Way, bitcoin is a way to bolster individual contributions.
Looking to the future, he said, people want to engage participate in philanthropic work and opportunities more and more. They often do so through their employers, but its becoming increasingly easy to get information and drive their community work as an individual.
"The whole idea is to engage millions of people to become part of the solution. At the core, that's where our interest in becoming attractive to bitcoin users came from."
Hochberg also acknowledged the possibility that United Way's supporters could eventually learn about and embrace bitcoin through its support.