Crypto Philanthropy FAQs

While there’s no single comprehensive data source on crypto philanthropy, it’s clear from looking at some of the largest players that the field has been growing rapidly. The Giving Block, the largest organization focused on crypto donations, saw nearly $70 million given through their platform in 2021, an increase of 1,558% from 2020. Fidelity Charitable saw crypto donations surpass $330 million in 2021, a twelve-fold increase over the previous year. 

Donors aren’t just giving more money. The number of charities accepting cryptocurrency has also risen dramatically, as this chart from Galaxy Digital Research’s report on crypto giving clearly shows. 

The broader crypto philanthropy ecosystem is growing as well. Organizations like The Giving Block, Crypto for Charity, and Endaoment have emerged to make it significantly easier for nonprofits to accept crypto donations. Donor advised fund platforms like Fidelity Charitable are also facilitating crypto giving opportunities for donors.

Generosity has been present in the crypto community even in its earliest years. In January 2011, before the price of Bitcoin had ever reached $1, cryptocurrency pioneer Hal Finney was already thinking about how Bitcoin wealth could be used to help others, telling other Bitcoin enthusiasts: “Since we’re all rich with bitcoins, or we will be once they’re worth a million dollars like everyone expects, we ought to put some of this unearned wealth to good use.”

Since then, many crypto givers have indeed tried to put their money to good use. Bitgive, the first registered Bitcoin nonprofit in the US, was founded in 2013. By 2017, an anonymous donor created The Pineapple Fund to donate 5104 BTC (USD 55 million at the time) to 60 charities. 

More recent developments include:

Crypto is a relatively new space, so crypto philanthropy is obviously relatively new as well. But there have already been prominent instances of high profile people in the crypto community not just donating large amounts, but specifically orienting their giving toward high impact causes. Some notable, but far from comprehensive, examples include:

One of the main reasons The Life You Can Save has prioritized outreach to the Web3 community is because we believe it is particularly receptive to our argument that it’s important to donate to the most effective nonprofits that can offer the most impact per dollar (or Bitcoin) donated. In addition to a track record of crypto philanthropy (discussed in a previous FAQ that has supported highly effective causes, we believe there are theoretical reasons why the crypto community is inclined to prioritize effectiveness. 

Several panelists at the What Good Is Crypto? event we co-organized explored this relationship between crypto and effective giving. Sam Bankman-Fried discussed how he applies the optimization framework he’s used as founder of FTX to his charitable giving. Haseeb Qureshi (Managing Partner at Dragonfly Capital) argued that the game-theoretical approach underlying the design of most crypto systems is consistent with the utilitarian worldview favored by many effective altruists. And Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save’s founder, suggested that differences in how crypto wealth is built relative to historical means of accumulating wealth make it more likely that riches from crypto will be donated effectively. Their thoughts on the matter are excerpted from the transcript of the event (which can also be viewed as a video), below. 

Sam Bankman-Fried on optimizing his giving (watch as video):

“There are a lot of ways that you can have really leveraged positive impact on the world, if that’s actually your goal, is having positive impact on the world. And if it’s not, I think that a mistake that a lot of people make is they’re like, “I want to accomplish 17 goals with this donation.” And having positive impact is one of the 17, but it has to fit all these 16 other criteria. And by the end, you’re constraining what you do so much, you’re not actually having that much positive impact. You’re spending a lot of your specialization points for what this is actually accomplishing on crap that doesn’t really matter because that’s what happens when you try and simultaneously optimize for 17 different things.

Whereas, if you actually just say, doing good is the goal, then you get to choose the thing that does the most good. And in the end, that’s what matters, in the end, the attractiveness of the postcards that you get sent or that you get to send to people, talking about the good that they’ve done is just the means to an end, that’s not the good in and of itself, and that’s not what you should be optimizing for.”

Haseeb Qureshi on the links between utilitarianism and crypto (watch as video):

“I think crypto is actually probably the perfect place to encapsulate the difference between utilitarianism and deontology because just to rearticulate, utilitarianism is the idea that as long as you get the right outcome, then it’s all good. Whatever you do, just get the right outcome and that’s really what matters. And deontology says there are some things you should never do even if it gets the right outcome, even if it makes everybody better off, don’t do this because it’s wrong in some deeper, fundamental sense. And crypto’s exactly the place where the way that we look at everything in crypto is through the lens of game theory.

We look at the incentives and we say, “Look, we don’t say there are good incentives and bad incentives and this kind of incentive is evil, and this kind of incentive is virtuous and that’s why you should only give these ones.”

We say, “Look, the important thing is, we want the protocol to be secure. We want miners to do the right thing. We want people not to get hacked, we want to create this global property system.” And if you’re looking at that lens and that comports with the way that you think the world ought to be, the way that people design these crypto ecosystems is really kind of this utilitarian effective altruist mindset which is, let’s design the system that improves the outcome for the most people.

And in that way, I think for a lot of people in crypto, certainly not everybody, but for a lot of people in crypto, this utilitarian approach to thinking about what creates the best possible world, really resonates because it resonates with the way that crypto designers create these economic systems. And of course, if you look in the regular world, nobody designs economic systems the way that crypto designers do.

There is no top-down view or we write a white paper where we show, or we write these math proofs that show how we’re maximizing utility for every party. The real world is full of deontology. The real world is like, “No, no. You never do this, you have to give subsidies to farmers, you have to make sure that you have a childcare subsidy,” and blah, blah, blah. And it ends up being this big, distorted mass of incentives that maybe get it right but most of the time don’t.”

Peter Singer on the implications of how crypto wealth is generated for giving (view as video): 

“One of the things that’s relevant for giving is that it’s created wealth in a younger generation of people, Sam is the ideal example, who were not so committed to the conservative values that wealth traditionally had. When a lot of the wealth was inherited, was passed down in families and they were politically very conservative and socially conservative, they were less likely to think about really effective giving, and they were certainly less likely to be thinking about giving to help people in extreme poverty. There were some philanthropists who did that, but a lot more of it went, say in the country where you earnt the money, so the American robber barons, if they set up foundations at all, they did it within America and for those purposes. 

And crypto is different from that because the people who have gone into it and have been successful, have a certain mindset that’s different. Basically I would say they tend to be on average smarter, because they had to think of ideas and ways to earn their wealth, rather than inherit it. 

And I think that goes along with actually seeing that the world is one, and as Sam has been saying, that the needs are there, that you can save a life for under $5,000 in low income countries. Whereas here, we spend, I think the Department of Transportation is prepared to spend 11 million to save a statistical life, that’s its figure. So that’s a pretty shocking evidence of an inegalitarian world, if it’s 11 million to save an American life and under 5,000 for a life in low income countries. So I think that a lot of the people in the crypto community see that, and they’re more ready to see it than some of the more traditionally wealthy people.”

Donating cryptocurrency can have substantial tax benefits. We encourage donors to consult with a knowledgeable tax professional to understand how tax laws in their jurisdiction apply to their own situation.

Fidelity Charitable notes that for US donors, donating crypto directly to a nonprofit, rather than selling that crypto and donating the after-tax proceeds, “includes two significant benefits, both for you and the charity:

  • Your tax deduction will be equal to the fair market value of the donated bitcoin (as determined by a qualified appraisal).

  • Your gift to charity will be larger because instead of paying capital gains taxes, the 501(c)(3) charity will receive the full value of your contribution.”

More information, including an example showing how much a donor can save because of these factors, can be found on Fidelity Charitable’s website. Crypto for Charity has also published guides on the tax benefits of donating crypto, donating NFTs, and donating NFT Drop Proceeds that may be useful for donors.

There’s strong evidence that providing unrestricted cash grants is an efficient way to help people living in poverty, which is one of the reasons why The Life You Can Save recommends GiveDirectly, a pioneering organization in the field of cash transfers. While there is some precedent for implementing cash transfers via crypto, this approach does not appear to be widespread: GiveCrypto runs such a program, but only in Venezuela.

Crypto does have enormous potential for use in cross border payments, including philanthropic cash transfers. However, there are also near-term practical obstacles to such use, especially when trying to move money to some of the world’s poorest communities. At the What Good is Crypto? event that The Life You Can Save co-organized, both panel discussions engaged with these issues. Our expert panelists’ insights on these topics are excerpted below. 

First panel discussion (Watch as video)

Rhys Lindmark (Moderator):  My general question for the three of you, maybe we’ll start with Sibongani, how do you see crypto and effective altruism interacting? And especially for you on the ground, there’s this dream of oh, let crypto bank the unbanked. It’s like, well, I know for me, I was in Kenya recently, it was like, the folks who we were giving, the poor folks we were giving money to, they didn’t even have a dumb phone, much less a smartphone, so we can’t just give them a crypto wallet. So tell us a little bit about how you see crypto and effective altruism interacting on the ground?

Sibongani Kayola (GiveDirectly Country Director in Liberia):       That’s a great question, and you’re very right. On the fundraising side, 17% of GiveDirectly’s operating budget in 2021 came from the crypto community, so definitely very relevant. On the delivery side, if we’re talking best case scenario where donors can send recipients funds directly with crypto and bypass having to go through banks and telcos and so on and so forth, we haven’t yet found a place where that’s possible. And it’s really difficult to give an answer that applies to all the countries that we work in, or a timeline and say, X country will be ready by X date. To your point, in many of the countries in which we work, many of the individuals we work with do not have feature phones, dumb phones, as you call them, or a SIM card.

That said, some countries like Kenya and Rwanda are far more ready for crypto adoption than countries like Liberia, where the payments technology is far less developed. We also need to think about other things such as the level of education and internet penetration in certain countries. So it’s better in some countries and less developed in some countries. That said, GiveDirectly is looking at end-to-end crypto solutions to connect donors and recipients in some places where we do not work yet. And hopefully in a number, well in a couple of years, for example, we will be able to pilot a program where we do have donors sending crypto directly to recipients.

Rhys Lindmark:     That’ll be exciting. Go Sam.

Sam Bankman-Fried (FTX Founder):   Yeah. I think I’ll say that in connection with some of that, I don’t think that global crypto payments are today a panacea for anything. I do think that the current payment infrastructure is really bad though. It’s totally busted. And that crypto represents, I think, the most compelling, medium term vision for a cross border payment system that works. 

And so I don’t think that today they solve all these problems, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years, a substantial amount of giving was being done via crypto, not just because that’s where it came from, but because that’s where the recipients wanted it to go into. Because it solves, in theory, a lot of the underlying problems with cross border payments. And in theory, isn’t the same as in practice. And if you look again today, although in theory, there’s lots of advantage to it, in practice, most countries don’t have the on and off ramps between crypto and fiat currencies, nor do they have payment terminals that accept crypto payments to make accepting crypto payments a practical solution for most people.

But again, I’m optimistic that that’s going to change over the next five years or so, and maybe even over the next one or two years, to the point where it will start to seem like crypto should be a substantial part of how cash transfers are made.

Rhys Lindmark:   Yeah. I’ll be curious, what percent, maybe to push you on that for second, by let’s say, choose between 2025 or 2030, what percentage of cross border cash transfers do you think will be done with crypto?

Sam Bankman-Fried:  I mean, I would say 10% to 20% by that first date and 30 to 60% by the second date. But huge, huge uncertainty on those. I think it could be 90%, it could be 0%. I think those are both valid possibilities.

Rhys Lindmark:   Yeah. I think that’s a cool vision. I did think, I mean, for us coming from the crypto world, it’s like, yeah, just the current system’s not great, permissionless, programmatic money just makes more sense long term. And so it feels inevitable with all, especially the infrastructure that’s being built that you are doing at FTX and various other folks, it’s going to happen eventually. And so it’s a question of, or for me at least, not a question of if, but when.

Second panel discussion (Watch as video)

Laura Shin (Moderator): Obviously, we do already have some crypto organizations that are trying to do philanthropic things like BitGive or GiveCrypto. And so what do you think would be the best way to design these for whatever your desired outcome would be? And Caroline, Haseeb or Arthur, any of you can answer this.

Haseeb Qureshi (Dragonfly Capital Managing Partner):    So GiveDirectly is a great example of this. It’s actually a really elegant economic expression of how to make giving better. So before GiveDirectly, there was always a perception that if you just give money to poor people, they’ll go spend it on dumb things. They’ll go spend it on booze or just random crap and they don’t know what’s good for them.

And so that’s why the charities that traditionally did the most work in very poor countries would be like, “Great. We’re a chicken charity and we’re going to give them chickens. And they’ll grow the chickens and it’s going to be great.” And the idea is we will buy you books or we’ll give you clean water or we’ll find some specific thing and we’ll create this really complicated supply chain to get it to you. And generally speaking, people from first-world countries loved these kind of charities because it’s easy to imagine if I just [00:14:30] give them money, who knows what they’ll spend it on? But if I give them books, they’ll read, they’ll get educated. That’s wonderful. 

So they sent them tons and tons of books. 

And as was mentioned in the previous panel, a lot of times what happens with these charities is that: one, they’re very expensive to administrate and there’s a lot of costs that get lost in the middle. But also, a lot of times what happens is people get the books or the chickens or the whatever and they go sell them because they don’t need chickens, they don’t need books. They need this other thing that only they know they need.

And there’s this classic economic argument of why gifts are very inefficient and instead, you should just give cash. And GiveDirectly, it’s the charity instantiation of that argument. Let’s assume that people are rational actors which… welcome to Crypto, right? As soon as people are rational actors and they know what’s good for them, they understand their situation better than you do, and if they have a bunch of money, they’re going to go spend it on the thing they actually need, whether their roof is leaking or their kids are sick or some other thing or they’ll just go spend it on food.

And it’s very difficult for us to anticipate that, but the people who actually are in need know exactly what they need, and so you should just give them money and they’ll figure it out. And that’s precisely what GiveDirectly does and has demonstrated through their own randomized control trials that they end up having more positive impact per dollar transferred than the other comparable charities that might just give people medicine or clothes or books without actually knowing what they, in particular, need.

Laura Shin:    And wait, but also I’m curious about GiveCrypto because that one is obviously different. They’re giving crypto and, of course, hopefully this is not too negative of a question, but my obvious question is the people on the ground there, what if they can’t turn it into their local currency or otherwise use it? Then what good does it do?

And I’m not going to pretend to be some expert on GiveCrypto, so maybe they have some way to make sure that it is useful to people. But is the best way to effectively use crypto in philanthropy to just adopt the GiveDirectly model but do it for crypto?

Haseeb Qureshi: Someone else want to take that? I can also take it.

Caroline Ellison (Alameda Research Co-CEO): Yeah. I could say something though I don’t know a ton about GiveCrypto, so I can’t really speak to their model in particular. Yeah. I think I’m not really sure in practice how useful it is to give crypto to people in developing countries.

I think that we have seen, like Haseeb was saying with GiveDirectly, that direct cash transfers are a great way to help the global poor, and I also think that crypto is potentially an exciting way to democratize finance and to basically make it easier, remove a lot of the frictions that people experience with banking systems, with countries with potentially repressive regimes.

Stuff like that. And put people in charge of their own money. So I don’t really know how useful it is right now to give people crypto. But I can see it as a potentially useful thing someday at least.

Arthur Breitman (Tezos Co-Founder): Yeah. I would say the potential crypto to transform things here, it is mostly more in terms of bringing cheaper transfers or bringing cheaper access to financial infrastructure overall. But that’s something that has yet to happen or to continue happening.

And so if the matter is making a direct gift, then if you expect that once a person receives cryptos they’re going to start converting it to cash to pay for whatever they need, then you might as well send them cash directly. There’s nothing magic in sending it in crypto versus any other form of payment. To add to what Haseeb was saying about giving directly, I like to compare it with basically it’s the index fund strategies of charity.

You could try to pick stocks and do all sort of trades and you’re going to end up paying a ton of commission. And a lot of people like doing this because they feel that they’re doing something and they’re optimizing and so on and so forth.

But at the end of the day, having low fee and just going straight to the point is a lot more effective. And this is the same thing, it just cuts out a lot of the impression of really doing that, “If only we do that and this and that,” but at the end of the day, it’s a lot more direct and a lot more effective than almost every other intervention.

Laura Shin:  And Haseeb, you said earlier you had some thoughts too on that question.

Haseeb Qureshi: Oh, I agree with it and I think it’s a good example of the effective altruist approach and action, but in general, I think the question of giving crypto versus giving dollars, my understanding… I’m not super familiar with GiveCrypto, but my understanding is that within GiveCrypto, they run these trials within an entire village.

And in that village, there are some money changers or basically people who can facilitate the transfer of crypto into the local currency. But I’m not an expert, so I can’t speak to it any more than that. I think the idea is that it lowers some of the infrastructure cost to do these transfers directly in crypto and, of course, there’s a lot of people with a lot of money in crypto who can send money.

We accept over 100 cryptocurrencies, which are listed below. This list is updated frequently, so please contact us if you are interested in donating an asset that does not appear on this list.

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Our default action is to convert all donations to dollars at the time of donation. If you would like us to keep your donation in the cryptocurrency of your gift, please contact us to discuss.

Yes! Please contact us if you would like to establish a smart contract that supports The Life You Can Save or any of our recommended charities.

You can! We provide an option for donors to submit only an email in order to receive an automatic tax receipt. 

While immediately converting your donation to dollars is our standard process, we recognize that some donors are bullish on crypto’s long-term prospects and would prefer that we “HODL” their gifts. Please contact us to discuss this option. 

Yes! We can help facilitate gifts that are large, illiquid, or otherwise complex. To learn more, please email cryptoinfo@thelifeyoucansave.org.

We’re grateful to have received donations from several NFT communities. We can also accept NFTs directly and then sell them to raise money for our work, or we can accept donations of NFT drop proceeds. If you’re an NFT artist, collector, community, or platform who wants to use your art to fight global poverty, we hope you’ll get in touch. You can learn more about our NFT-related work here, or find us on the DoinGud platform.

In addition to looking for collaborators in the NFT space, we’ve also taken steps to utilize this new technology ourselves. Our founder Peter Singer created an NFT based on his landmark essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality, and donated the proceeds to support our work. We also co-organized a What Good Is Crypto? online fundraiser for GiveDirectly that offered Proof-of-Attendance-Protocol NFTs to attendees and donors. 

Some cryptocurrencies, most notably Bitcoin, utilize an energy-intensive “Proof-of-Work” approach to validate their networks, while others use “Proof-of-Stake” validation methods that are much less energy intensive. At time of writing, The Life You Can Save has received more money through donations of Ethereum than any other cryptocurrency; Ethereum currently utilizes Proof-of-Work but plans to migrate to Proof-of-Stake in the near future

While energy usage is one difference between these two approaches, there are other trade-offs between Proof-of-Work and Proof-of-Stake that The Life You Can Save is not well-positioned to evaluate. 

As a point of clarity, individual crypto transactions including any crypto donations we receive are not themselves energy intensive. Rather, Proof-of-Work systems expend energy conducting “mining” operations that secure the network.

At The Life You Can Save, we focus on making it easy for people to donate to effective charities that help the global poor, including providing a range of popular donation payment options. With the rising popularity of crypto donations – and considering the fact that the process of donating crypto is not energy-intensive – we believe that the benefits of offering people the choice of donating crypto significantly outweighs any drawbacks. Please refer to our Gift Acceptance Policy for more details on our policies around accepting different types of gifts. 

We also want to acknowledge that crypto’s environmental impact is a complex and rapidly evolving topic that we are not experts in. The Fugue Foundation, a supporter of ours that also promotes decentralized blockchain technology, has written about some of the complexities involved. Our founder Peter Singer also recently had a discussion with Sam Bankman-Fried (founder of FTX and self-identified “Effective Altruist”) that addressed (among other topics) crypto’s environmental impact and steps that blockchain projects are taking to minimize that impact. We invite you to watch a video of that discussion, which took place at the Ethereal 2022 conference, to learn more about these issues.

Individual crypto transactions including any crypto donations we receive are not themselves energy intensive. Rather, Proof-of-Work systems expend energy conducting “mining” operations that secure the network.

Our default action is to convert all donations to dollars at the time of donation, meaning we have no exposure to price volatility once the donation has been made. 

On rare occasions, a donor will ask us to retain price exposure, which comes with high levels of volatility, because they believe crypto will appreciate over the long-term. If you would like us to keep your donation in the cryptocurrency of your gift, please contact us to discuss.