Large bitcoin donation puts Cape Cod Healthcare at forefront of emerging technology

BOSTON — Cape Cod Healthcare will take your donation in U.S. dollars — and now, in cryptocurrency.

Twice this year, an anonymous donor has given the company $400,000 worth of bitcoin, a virtual form of payment managed by a computer network called a blockchain. The donation had little precedent in the world of health care, said Chris Lawson, Cape Cod Healthcare’s senior vice president and chief development officer.  As cryptocurrency use becomes more popular, he said, the organization soon could be a first of many.

Mike Caldwell, a 35-year-old software engineer, holds a 25 Bitcoin token in 2013 at his shop in Sandy, Utah. Caldwell minted physical versions of bitcoins, cranking out homemade tokens with codes protected by tamper-proof holographic seals, a retro-futuristic kind of prepaid cash. Bitcoin was seeing up to 70,000 transactions each day in 2013 four years after it was invented.

“I think what’s going to occur — without having a crystal ball — is that more and more charities are going to recognize that this is a real opportunity in terms of building philanthropic support,” he said.

A new type of donation

Lawson said Cape Cod Healthcare had no way of accepting cryptocurrency donations when the donor, who was a regular contributor, first asked about the possibility of sending bitcoin.

Michael K. Lauf

The organization needed clearance from president and CEO Michael K. Lauf, as well as its finance and legal departments, to pursue the gift, Lawson said. They relied on guidelines from the Internal Revenue Service about virtual currency transactions, he said, which include specifics for charitable gifts.

To accept the bitcoins, Cape Cod Healthcare had to open an account with a cryptocurrency broker, Lawson said. The broker gave them a unique QR code to send to the donor, who then used the code to transfer cryptocurrency into the health provider’s digital wallet.

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