Blockchain: the next radical change for charities
I’m Stromi, Digital Producer at NSPCC, I work on Childline site & apps and Net Aware.
Blockchain may have the potential to change the way charities raise money.
So what is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a list of records, a sort of database, that contains financial transactions, contracts or other information.
Blockchain records are distributed across different computers. So instead of one person or organisation controlling everything, there are thousands of computers around the world connected to a single network.
Whenever someone makes a transaction, it’s broadcasted to the network, and the computers run complex algorithms to determine if the ‘transaction’ (block) is valid. If it is, they add it to the record of transactions, linking it to the previous transaction.
This chain of linked transactions is known as the Blockchain.
What sets Blockchain apart?
- No need for third parties for financial transactions or any types of agreements or contracts. This could lead to interesting platforms, for instance, a social network without a company owning your data.
- Tamper proof — when something is done, it can be undone. This means that trust is integrated in Blockchain technology.
Blockchain technology also allows to build smart contracts. A smart contract is capable of executing or enforcing itself. It is written as programming code which can be run on any computer.
The main purpose of designing smart contracts is to enable people to trade and do business with strangers, usually over the internet, without the need for a central authority to act as a middleman.
Blockchain and the real world
Cryptocurrencies usually get the limelight. However Blockchain can be used for:
- Music — Proof of ownership for online music and easier remuneration for musicians.
- Digital voting — Anonymous and secure, Blockchain records could create tamper-proof election returns.
- Healthcare — Medical history could be securely stored and controlled by patients. They will own their health data and select which data they want to share with healthcare providers.
- Property and land registry — Proof of ownership. Speed up the property agreements and transactions.
So if Blockchain is so amazing, why none of your friends or family members are using it?
Decentralised applications (dapps) — applications using Blockchain technology — have remained quite confidential.
Blockchain adoption is currently limited for a number of reasons:
- It is difficult to find a dapp that easily integrates with existing technology (e.g. browsers) . But some startups are working on it.
- Finding a dapp is not straightforward. The ‘dapp stores’ exist but they are far less popular than iTunes/ App store and Google Play store.
- The big tech companies are worried that dapps will threaten their business models so their involvement is limited for now.
How about charities? How can they use Blockchain ?
I think there are four different areas where Blockchain could be game-changing for charities:
- Cryptocurrencies donations
Online donations have significantly improved the way charities collect donations making it easy for supporters to help their selected causes.
At the time of writing, the entire cryptocurrencies market was worth $220 billion.
If cryptocurrencies popularity still rise there will be opportunities for the charity sector to tap into this to collect cryptocurrencies donations.
GiveCrypto.org launched by Coinbase’s founder (the leading cryptocurrencies exchange platform) encourages cryptocurrencies holders to donate to good causes.
Cryptocurrencies’ volatility remains the main challenge but several startups are working on ways to overcome this. For instance, Circle launched a cryptocurrency that will be stable and aligned on the US dollar.
For charities, the main benefit will be to reduce donations processing and transactions costs as there won’t be the need for financial third-party such as banks.
2. Smart donations
Using smart contracts, charities could move to an ‘impact-based donations’. Donations will include clauses which stipulate that the money is transferred only if certain trigger conditions are met. This will mean supporters can get refunded if the impact of the donation is not proved. Alice, a UK startup, is working on this.
This type of donations could increase trust among supporters . Openness and transparency might improve levels of trust.
As a result, this new way of donate could make charities more accountable.
3. Digital Assets donations
Thanks to Blockchain, for the first time, it is possible to create digital collectibles that cannot be copied; and thus can hold scarcity value. These digital assets could be anything such as cats, video games ‘skins’ or digital media (photos, videos, music etc.)
For charities, this means that the range of assets that can be donated to could be much wider. These digital collectibles could represent significant new revenue streams for charities.
In 2017, digital collectible card games earned $1.7 billion. Video game publishers and creators earn billions more by selling in-game items and collectibles.
These digital assets can also hold value and proof of ownership for physical objects such as art pieces or luxury goods.
If these digital assets and collectibles increase in the near future, supporters could start giving these assets to good causes, similar to the way some supporters are already donating physical assets (e.g. property).
4. Initial Coin Offering (ICO) (Currently, ICOs are not yet regulated or are being regulated depending on the countries)
It can be difficult for charities to raise funds to achieve their missions.
But Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) could change this by:
- improving the way charities raise funds for specific projects
- linking up better fundraising and the impact & outcomes of the project to provide more transparency to supporters
- making charities more accountable
ICOs are fundraising or crowd funding events accessible to anyone. But instead of raising money, companies are raising digital tokens in exchange for cryptocurrency investment.These tokens can represent a promise of future profits or early access to the company’s products or services.
This is where the opportunities for charitable causes lie, I think, ICOs could be used to fund large scale projects or to scale existing pilots which were already successful.
Charities could advertise ICOs to individuals as well as companies. Then participants would become supporters or philanthropists in these charitable projects.
This new way of fundraising could lead charities to create social projects with bigger impact and remove some of the uncertainty surrounding the fundraising process of large scale non for profit projects.
Several charities could also partner to fund bigger projects.
For charities, the sweet spot will probably be a combination of the above areas.
But there are other reasons to be optimistic. Some charities are already using Blockchain for good. The World Food Programme have used Blockchain technology to provide food to Syrian refugees.
The technology is already here, it’s up for charities to experiment and find out how ‘revolutionary’ Blockchain can be for them.
Let me know if you think Blockchain can change the way people give and how charities currently operate.