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November 10, 2021 / News & Blog
|This article is part of the “Inside the Curve: Business as (Not Quite) Usual” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.|
By Mary Maher, ED
“If it’s currency, it can be donated,” concluded Adam Woodworth, executive director of The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn, Illinois. In June 2021, the museum became the first children’s museum in the US known to accept cryptocurrency, such Bitcoin, as a donation.
Facing the severe budget shortfalls caused by an extended pandemic closure (Illinois was among the last states to allow children’s museums to reopen), Woodworth wanted to ensure anyone who wanted to contribute could do so in any way. Although Woodworth was not aware of a particularly robust use of this international, non-place-based currency in the Chicago area, he took what he had learned from his own personal exploration of the crypto world and set up a process through which the museum could accept this type of donation.
Investing in crypto currency is a vast trade network, similar in some ways to the stock market—except that it is intentionally unregulated, incredibly complex, and highly volatile. The stock market fluctuates daily but closes at 5:00 p.m.; the cryptocurrency market operates 24/7 and fluctuates second by second. But, in its basic form, cryptocurrency can simply be used like money.
The museum wanted to be able to accept a $100 cryptocurrency donation, for example, and not hold onto it as an investment, but immediately convert it to cash. In order to do that, the museum contracts with Engiven, one of many outside vendor platforms that enable nonprofits to safely and securely receive crypto donations and quickly convert them to “flat currency.” Cryptocurrency donations are accepted on the CMOak Lawn’s website using a dedicated Engiven-based portal. They are converted to cash for a transaction fee (4%), similar to a credit card fee, which shows up within a day or two in the museum’s checking account. According to Woodworth, unlike other platforms, there are no set-up costs and, so far, the process has been smooth and swift.
Relatively new, cryptocurrency donations are similar to stock donations, and subject to similar tax advantages, although the government is trying to catch up with the rapidly evolving world of cryptocurrency.
At this writing, the museum has received about ten cryptocurrency donations, but in Woodworth’s thinking they are donations they might not have gotten otherwise. The pool of cryptocurrency donors tends to be age-based—younger—rather than region-based. But its popularity is growing: banks, businesses, even PayPal, accept it now.
While the number of cryptocurrency donations so far has been relatively low, the attention it has brought the museum is high. Google “Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn + cryptocurrency” and more than a dozen stories pop up. The story has been very popular among crypto-bloggers. In contrast, perhaps, to the cryptocurrency world’s darker side which has occasionally been linked to stories of money laundering, cybercrime ransoms, and other mysterious transactions dependent on its untraceability. Banks keeps ledgers, once paper, now digital; cryptocurrency keeps its codes in blockchain. But the museum’s story, widely circulated even outside the field, has characterized the museum as a trailblazer, looking to the future. Woodworth says, “For as complicated as understanding cryptocurrency can be, accepting it and converting it to fiat currency (i.e., currency established as legal tender by a government) is very simple and low risk if using a service like Engiven or Every.org.
Would the museum have jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon without the COVID-induced financial pressures? Probably at some point. Woodworth is all about diversifying the museum’s revenue streams. He says, “Crypto is here to stay. It might look different fifteen years from now, but serving families will still be what we do and that is going to require funding both now and fifteen years from now.”