Credibility of large digital currencies: donations to help, says Toronto’s Bo Zou


In a recent monologue, The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert took a few minutes from his routine stick-poking at his favorite target, U.S. President Donald Trump, to get serious – kind of – about an important organization dedicated to funding classroom needs and/or projects.

The organization is, a public school crowd-funding platform that allows donors to choose projects whose needs match their interests. Until recently, it had 35,647 open campaigns. And then its CEO approached San Francisco cryptocurrency startup Ripple and hit the jackpot: A substantial donation that would fund all of its open campaigns.

Colbert seemed a tad skeptical, as he raised his eyebrows and paused in his delivery, noting that the $29 million donation was in Ripple’s XRP virtual (and thus intangible) currency: “[$29 million] in XRP virtual currency is, I have no idea,” he shrugged. “One, a billion? It’s wonderful, but please don’t explain blockchain to me.”

“This donation was a wonderful thing and a substantial gift, but Colbert’s doubtfulness does point out that we have a long way to go for digital dollars to seem more tangible and credible,” said Bo Zou, a Toronto customer experience strategy and design consultant with expertise in cryptocurrency.

At current exchange rates, that $29 million translated into just under 50 million XRP. And for all that digital currency like XRP seems ephemeral to the uninitiated, it was an easy matter for to turn its XRP donation into cash.

Ripple, with $100 billion in XRP on its platform, serves as an intermediary to bank and financial institution customers who want to avoid heavy fees and commissions in sending money overseas. They use its digital currency instead. All DonorsChoose had to do was contract with one of Ripple’s banking partners to convert and access the money.

The good news is that this is not the first instance of the community springing up around cryptocurrency exhibiting its generosity.

Last year, The Pineapple Fund made waves when launched anonymously by an early Bitcoin investor known as “Pine” who was early to the BitCoin game and is among the world’s 250 largest holders of the currency.  The organization intends to give away the equivalent of $85 million in Bitcoin.

In February, The Pineapple Fund added to the $20 million given away so far with a $200,000 donation to KDE, an open source community. It followed donations to a charity funding research into chronic complex diseases and another aiming to end poverty for rural Kenyans.

Major nonprofits and foundations have been trialing donations in cryptocurrency for several years. There’s been an increase that speaks to its growing credibility. Case in point: In 2017, Fidelity Charitable, which houses the nation’s largest donor-advised fund, received $69 million in cryptocurrency donations. That compares to the $7 million received in 2015 and 2016 together.

As Paul Lamb of the Man on a Mission nonprofit consultancy wrote: “In the short term, it is unlikely that cryptocurrency and Blockchain platforms will significantly disrupt or displace traditional philanthropy, but they will drive further innovation and experimentation in the sector.”

Longer term, though, he added, it all may combine to establish a new norm for transparency in philanthropy.

And in the end, added CX expert Bo Zou, “it doesn’t matter that Stephen Colbert doesn’t get digital currency or blockchain. Giving airtime to the concept and its beneficiaries is huge in terms of driving awareness and perceptions of it all. And that can only keep the needle moving on acceptance over time.”