By Kim Mohr, contributing writer
At Cal State Fullerton, the past has met the future in the form of a next-gen donation gifted to a storied institution. The university has accepted its first philanthropic donation in cryptocurrency, directed to the Fullerton Arboretum. The gift, from an alumnus of CSUF who wishes to remain anonymous, is part of a burgeoning philanthropic trend taking place across the country.
Cryptocurrency philanthropy made headlines last spring, when in May the University of Pennsylvania accepted its largest donation of bitcoin ever, to the Wharton School of Business, to the tune of $5 million. The gift, appropriately, will benefit the university’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance. The university began accepting the new form of donation in January.
Back at home, Cal State Fullerton’s Philanthropic Foundation has been working to create systems and structures for these types of donations, according to Michael Karg, executive director of Development for the university. This fall, those efforts paid off with the gift to the arboretum from an alumnus of the school’s College of Business & Economics.
“Making philanthropy as accessible as possible and giving donors options is never a bad thing,” Karg said of the new technology. “This technology provides donors flexibility to look at overall assets and make the decision as to what’s most meaningful to them in terms of what asset to donate.”
Confused about cryptocurrency and how these types of donations work? Cryptocurrency is decentralized, digital money designed to be used over the internet. Bitcoin, which launched in 2008, was the first cryptocurrency, and it remains by far the biggest, most influential and best-known, according to coinbase.com.
Advantages include the ability to transfer value online instantly without using a bank or payment processor. Cryptocurrency is not backed by a government entity but is vetted by a technology called blockchain.
For philanthropic giving, entities such as GiveCampus and Kraken, which was used in the Cal State Fullerton donation, facilitate donations. With Kraken, donors can scan a QR code that takes them directly to the CSUF foundation’s website. Any of the nationally reputable cryptocurrencies are accepted by the school, Karg said.
Cryptocurrency is not without risk, as its value can fluctuate, a fact that prompts many nonprofit groups to convert the digital funds to cash upon receipt. Cal State Fullerton plans to do just that with the $1,500 donation to the Arboretum.
While this first donation was small, it may be a sign of big things ahead.
“This is a new frontier,” Karg said. “Crypto is a mechanism to allow for donors to have impact. Because it’s new, there’s opportunity to attract attention from people wishing to have impact.”
There’s also a tax benefit for donors, as crypto gifts are not subject to capital gains taxes.
But in philanthropy, some things are constant. “The traditional conversation about impact still needs to be had with what the donor wants to accomplish,” Karg said. And the impact can be felt across campus — whether donors are interested in a particular college or program at the university or would like the funds to go toward student scholarships.
That the first gift using this new technology was made to the almost 45-year-old Fullerton Arboretum is not lost on arboretum director Greg Dyment.
“It’s meaningful that the first cryptocurrency gift to campus is to the Fullerton Arboretum. Philanthropy has been a part of the Fullerton Arboretum since before our groundbreaking in 1977. In a way, this gift connects our rich history to our future,” Dyment said.
The gift will go toward a new program at the on-campus arboretum known as E3, or Engaging Environmental Experiences. The program teaches real-world leadership skills and hands-on engagement through environmental projects at the arboretum. Student teams will work on horticulture, education and conservation projects. This donation, along with others, will support those teams.
“Environmental issues in general are going to be a major challenge, not only for Orange County but for our state and our nation,” Karg said. “The unique aspects of having the arboretum at CSUF provides an oyster of opportunity for our students to get hands-on public gardens, conservation and environmental leadership experience.”
Whether benefactors are using high-tech or traditional means to contribute to the university, Karg pinpoints a common motivator for giving. “People are investing because they are interested in the social mobility that we create through the education we provide to students. We have a lot of first-generation college students and Pell Grant recipients on campus. The more we can raise to invest in the excellent programs, academic research and student research, the better we prepare students for the workforce, and the better that is for our region.”
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