Last year, Americans gave $127.37 billion to religious organizations, according to the latest Giving USA annual report on charity. Practically none of that was in cryptocurrency, according to religious giving experts, and that is not likely to change soon.

It’s not that churches wouldn’t like to accept this sort of donation. They are simply not set up for it yet. So far, they have not received many actual requests to tithe crypto.

Cryptocurrency donations involve valuation and bookkeeping considerations most religious institutions are not equipped to handle.

It’s not something that churches and houses of workshop are worrying about yet,” James Bakke, the executive director of the Barnabas Foundation, tells ThirtyK. The Crete, Illi.-based foundation provides financial services to more than 200 churches and religious organizations.

“They don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle it well,” he says. “They need someone who knows what they’re doing and who can process it. Our experience is that churches have well-meaning people who say they’ll handle it and then use a full-service broker, which is expensive. Then they might not liquidate it when the price is right and the donor is unhappy.”

Crypto Evangelists?

The International Christian Fellowship in Zurich, Switzerland, is one church that is accepting bitcoin for tithes and offerings. The move is part of its efforts to appeal to younger Christians.

At the moment, however, crypto appears to be more discussed than donated. Church Law & Tax, a newsletter geared toward church administrators and treasurers, has outlined the mechanics of accepting bitcoin (BTC). A church would have to open a virtual wallet at an exchange such as Coinbase, receive donations in that wallet and then convert the bitcoin to cash by selling it.

Cryptocurrency donations invoke a host of complicated valuation and bookkeeping considerations that most religious institutions are not equipped to handle, Steven Pierson, a tax vice president and shareholder with Oak Brook, Illinois-based CPA firm Selden Fox, tells ThirtyK.

Valuation and liquidation of any noncash donation are problematic for churches, says Pierson, especially because they tend to rely on volunteers for financial leadership.

“There’s no blue book value,” Pierson says, noting the difficulty of timing any crypto-to-dollars conversion for maximum effect for the church. And churches are wary of being used for unholy purposes. “You’d have to be aware of laundering crypto through donations,” he adds.

Religious demographics in the U.S. may not align with those of the typical crypto owner. A Pew Foundation study found that households with at least $75,000 in annual income are much more likely to be aware of cryptocurrency. By contrast, a different Pew study found that 56 percent of adults attending a religious service at least once a week had household income of less than $50,000; only 16 percent had household income of more than $100,000.

Divided Donations

Meanwhile, charities overall are gearing up to accept cryptocurrency donations. These charities could provide an outlet for churchgoers interested in using bitcoin for spiritually motivated giving.

Some Protestant churchgoers are likely to feel comfortable giving some of their tithe (typically considered to mean giving 10 percent of one’s income to church) to secular charities, according to a recent survey by Christian company LifeWay Research. The survey found 18 percent of churchgoers think donations to secular charities can be part of their tithes.

Still, it is likely just a matter of time before churches gain the resources they need for virtual contributions to their donation baskets.

We’ve had two inquiries about cryptocurrency donations but haven’t accepted any yet, says Bakke of the Barnabas Foundation. “But we will.”

Joanne Cleaver
Joanne Cleaver is a Chicago-based freelance, business and lifestyles journalist based. Her work has appeared in a number of national and regional publications. Earlier in her career, she was the deputy business editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.