Heifer International’s crypto movement and what it could mean for everyday donors

Even as cryptocurrencies plummet and draw “I told you so” criticism, a venerable development and poverty relief group is deepening its digital cash fundraising. The goal: to attract cryptodons but also to test new ways of building relationships with everyday donors.

The 78 year old man International Heifer recently acquired the assets of BitGive Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects Bitcoin holders with charities. More importantly, Heifer takes control of BitGive GiveFollow-upa crowdfunding platform that has funded the projects of major international development organizations like Heifer and save the children as well as small groups like the Water Project.


The GiveTrack platform tracks cryptocurrency donations so donors can trace their contributions back to their end use – in this case, the purchase of a tractor that farmers can borrow.

GiveTrack allows donors to track crypto-gifts to their endpoint, when used by the charity, thanks to the blockchain technology that underpins Bitcoin and other digital cash. Donors receive regular updates on project impact and needs via email or a feed similar to a social media feed.

This transparency and reporting is essential for relationships with all donors, not just cryptophilanthropists, said Harper Grubbs, senior director of digital marketing at Heifer. This includes supporters of small gifts whose donations through the organisation’s famous holiday gift catalog are used to buy cows, sheep and flocks of chicks for families in need.

“This is a big step forward in the gifting experience of the future,” Grubbs said. “We also want to bring this experience to people who are not crypto donors. They’re looking for a deeper level and engagement, and we believe the GiveTrack platform offers that. »

GiveTrack was launched in 2015, more than a decade after the launch of GlobalGiving, a pioneering crowdfunding platform and one of the fastest growing nonprofits of the past two decades. It has raised more than $730 million from some 1.6 million donors since 2002, funding more than 30,000 projects.

Both platforms have a similar purpose and appearance: both raise funds for international development and promote projects through photos, videos, staff reports, and more. GlobalGiving, however, does not accept cryptocurrency; donors did not seek to make digital cash donations, the organization said in a statement. “If we were to receive requests, we would consider activating it, but we also have other competing priorities at this time.”

The acquisition of BitGive – which was not a purchase but a transfer of assets, intellectual property and brand – had been in the works for more than six months, according to the two groups. BitGive founder Connie Gallippi said the nine-year-old organization sees itself as a start-up that needs deeper pockets to grow.

BitGive only had around $257,000 in revenue in 2021, according to tax records. Heifer International’s total revenue, meanwhile, was nearly $141 million.

“It’s a monumental step forward,” Gallippi said. Heifer, she added, is an organization widely known for its good work and impact. “For them to embrace this technology and this innovative way of approaching things is very legitimizing for the technology itself.”

Heifer, which began accepting cryptocurrency donations in 2016, said the acquisition is an evolution of its experiments with digital cash as well as blockchain technology, which locks digital transactions into what amounts to a big Book. All transactions are secure and transparent, giving donors the confidence that their funds will be used as intended.

Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari’s enthusiasm for technology-driven innovation is such that he has been profiled in Wired magazine under the title: “The nonprofit that uses technology to go out of business”. Among the group’s blockchain efforts, its Chocolate4All The program helps Honduran farmers track the production of cocoa beans through to their sale – a process previously tracked via spreadsheets.

Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari (left, in blue shirt) visits a model farmer in Gicumbi, Rwanda, in 2022. (Courtesy Heifer International)

Courtesy of Heifer International

Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari (in blue shirt and hat) visits a farmer in Rwanda in 2022. Ferrari promotes the organization’s use of technology in Heifer’s program work and fundraising .

“Regardless of what happens with currencies, blockchain is critical to what we think the future looks like for infrastructure, organization, and administration,” Grubbs said.

In late 2020, Heifer turned to GiveTrack for crypto-crowdfunding country who has raised more than $10,000 to buy a walk-behind tractor and other equipment to loan to Heifer’s network of farmers in the southern United States.

Heifer will take six months or more to think about how best to use GiveTrack and its other new assets. Grubbs said he wanted to add the ability to accept cryptocurrencies in addition to Bitcoin. It will also decide to keep the crowdfunding platform open to projects from other organisations. “It’s all on the table,” Grubbs said.

Gallippi and another BitGive staff member will join Heifer in advisory roles, while the organization’s interim executive director will remain with the group until the transfer of assets is officially complete.

The announcement of the BitGive acquisition comes amid growing fears over the viability of digital cash. The values ​​of most cryptocurrencies have fallen this year, hurt by the same inflation concerns and interest rate worries that have hammered stocks. bitcoin lost more than two-thirds of its value since peaking at over $67,000 per coin in November.

“I guess crypto will never become totally worthless, but it will eventually become irrelevant, like the Beanie Baby frenzy of the 1990s,” tweeted Matt Stoller, a frequent cryptocurrency critic and author of Goliath: The 100-year war between monopoly power and democracy.

Other concerns stem from what Gary Gensler, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, last year judge as a crypto market “full of frauds, scams and abuses”.

A few nonprofit organizations have their doubts about crypto-donation. In January, the Mozilla Foundation, after virulent criticism of co-founder Jamie Zawinski, suspended digital cash gifts. This announcement last month that he would continue that pause, citing currency volatility and the environmental costs of some energy-intensive cryptomining.

“That doesn’t stop us from keeping the door open for greener cryptocurrency projects in the future,” he said. “But, at this time, our donations policy is not the place to do that.”

Other organizations are pursuing crypto fundraising programs, saying they are tapping into a new channel for philanthropy and meeting donors where they are. A Third of Crypto Holders Donate Digital Assets, Says Fidelity Charitable investigation of investors with more than $25,000 in all kinds of assets. The survey also suggests there is potential for growth: more than half of investors don’t even know they can donate digital money to charity.

Unicef ​​is nearing the end of a three-year pilot project CryptoFund. Donations from a handful of donors are now supporting entrepreneurs — many of them start-ups or start-ups — developing open-source technologies that aim to accelerate results for the organization. Thanks to the transparency offered by the blockchain, a website tracks the flow of cryptocash to and from the fund.

UNICEF is evaluating the pilot project to determine whether it should be continued and is satisfied with its effectiveness. International agencies often face delays of several weeks and large expenses in obtaining funds through government regulatory bodies and converting them into local currency for use in the field. In contrast, CryptoFund transactions take less than 10 minutes with fees below 0.1%, according to Sunita Grote, head of Unicef ​​Ventures.

“We’re always looking for ways to save operating costs and get results,” says Grote.

Most nonprofits convert cryptodonations to traditional currency upon receipt, fearing that the gifts will lose value almost overnight. Unicef ​​and Heifer recognize that the volatility of digital money poses challenges, but point to the benefit of moving funds more quickly and efficiently.

“We don’t think these challenges are enough to not continue this work,” Grote said.

Millions of cryptodollars continue to be donated to charity despite the drop in value, Harper noted. “Even with volatility, donors need to use their currency to do good things,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go away.”

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