Virtual Currency - Digital Wallets, Real Philanthropy

Feb 13, 2018

3 min

From Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, Zcash, Dash, Ripple, and Monero to hundreds more you have probably never heard of, virtual currencies (also nicknamed cryptocurrencies) are making an impact on the world. Virtual currencies, digital currencies that use encryption techniques to regulate currency and verify the transfer of funds, operate primarily outside of banks and government institutions. They are slowly becoming more well known and creating a larger influence on society.

Dr. Angela Pool-Funai, Director of the Master of Public Administration program at Southern Utah University, and expert on virtual currencies, explains the value of using digital currencies for real philanthropy:

Imagine going to an arcade to play some old-school games. You exchange a few bucks into tokens, and you end up earning a handful of tickets from the Skee-Ball game. You can trade in your tickets for a toy at the front counter, but neither the tokens nor the tickets have any purchasing power once you leave the arcade. You cannot buy groceries or make a car payment with Skee-Ball tickets.
Now, let’s take our arcade scenario and turn it into an online platform. The tokens no longer exist in coin form; instead, they are in your digital wallet as a virtual currency. Some virtual currencies are like our arcade example: they are confined to a particular game or digital platform and have no monetary value in the real world. Granted, some clever individuals have managed to trade even these closed-system currencies on the black market – such as the infamous gold mining fiasco within the World of Warcraft game in the mid-2000s.
However, more and more digital currencies (also nicknamed cryptocurrency), like Bitcoin and Linden Dollars (L$, the currency used in a virtual world called Second Life) actually have an exchange rate with standard currencies, like the US Dollar. These currencies can be used to purchase real-world goods and services. Cryptocurrencies are, in essence, another form of money.
The primary concern about cryptocurrencies is that they have no single authority or point of oversight, such as traditional banking institutions and regulatory agencies for currencies around the world. Bitcoin and other open-system types of virtual currencies exist neither in virtual worlds (like L$) nor in a safe deposit box at the local bank. Rather, the money is comprised of computer programming language, as its namesake suggests.
Such virtual currencies mirror their financial counterparts in the real-world economy, so much so that scandals involving questionable Bitcoin transactions have caught the attention of policy makers in recent years, bringing virtual economies under increasing scrutiny. Despite negative attention following criminal activity like the 2013 Silk Road drug bust and the 2014 Shavers fraud trial, virtual currencies continue to thrive in commercial markets.
What may come as a surprise, however, is that cryptocurrencies have also been used to support the nonprofit sector, even before the Bitcoin controversies took center stage. For example, the American Cancer Society has conducted a virtual Relay for Life fundraiser within Second Life for over a decade, raising close to $3 million in real USD in the process. Even during the season of scandals in 2014, the University of Puget Sound received a gift estimated at $10,000 via Bitcoin, and that same year, King’s College in New York City began accepting Bitcoin as a tuition payment option. The Red Cross, United Way, Greanpeace and Save the Children, and Wikimedia all accept bitcoin donations.
From the perspective of the public administration field, it is vital that we include the nonprofit sector in discussions of this nature, because policies concerning virtual currencies do not only impact private business practices. Tax policy and other regulations involving digital currencies will have a real and direct impact on the nonprofit community.
Virtual currencies are a novel way to engage philanthropically with a nonprofit organization. Although scandals tend to make the headlines, more stories highlighting the good work happening with cryptocurrencies in the nonprofit sector may draw more positive attention to the endless charitable applications of virtual currencies.

Dr. Pool-Funai’s research focuses on virtual currency, tax policy, and philanthropy. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit her profile.

You might also like...

Check out some other posts from Southern Utah University

3 min

Economics Professor Creates Health Education Action Lab

In a recent podcast interview with Southern Utah University’s Center for Teaching Innovation, Dr. Joshua Price, associate professor of economics at SUU, shared his goals for the students of SUU, and the programs he’s created to help them succeed. Dr. Price’s goal is to create a community of students to work together, and overcome their similar challenges. As an undergraduate Dr. Price worked as a research assistant working on a project looking at this high school participation, increasing lifetime earnings. He has dedicated his time to help students on their paths of research and understanding. After coming to SUU he partnered with other faculty and the provost to hire students to work on different projects, and has since expanded to create the HEAL (Health Education Action Lab). “HEAL has been designed to give students of any major of any class an opportunity to engage in empirical research. We want them to start working on their own research, where we can help mentor them,” said Dr. Price. “I think part of it is just to let them rely on each other. And oftentimes, I want to step in quickly. And oh, let me, I know the answer. I've done this kind of thing. Here's how you solve this problem quickly. But just take a step back and let them go through that experience.” Dr. Price uses Bloom's Taxonomy, which is a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition. “There's a triangle of hierarchy of learning, and research hits, I think, every single one of those levels. And by doing research, you're able to create new knowledge, so we want to give students those opportunities.” said Price. “The hard part is, research can be hard. And it can be difficult. As you start to get into it, the challenges come and the problems start to happen and the problem solving has to kick in. By forming a community by getting students together in a group, there's something special about students being in a collaborative environment, where they're facing the same challenges and same opportunities.” The purpose of education is to help students gain valuable skills they can use for any job/major. Such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, etc. These are the skills that every employer is looking for, but they are also the hardest skills to teach and learn. In the interview Dr. Price mentioned his love of teaching when he said “One of the big things that attracted me here was the opportunity to work with students and be a part of a college experience and a college atmosphere.” A good educator is someone who truly understands and cares about the students. Technology can both help and hinder this process. While you are able to meet with people over a large distance, There is a different connection when it comes to face-to-face communication. Connecting with the students is essential if professors want them to reach their goals. Professors want their students to succeed, and that means pushing them to learn and grow. “I've tried to embrace the student’s goals, and support their goals no matter what they are and that's how we measure success. When you look at our job placements, and when you look at talk to these students afterwards, they're incredibly happy. They're achieving their definitions of success. The Health Education Action Lab is successful because we're helping these students achieve their dreams.” “We take any student, any major, we have an open door policy, where we will help train you on how to do empirical research and give you the skills that you are looking for, no matter what your discipline is, and we welcome anybody, and it's an awesome experience.” Dr. Price’s research focuses on the application of behavioral economic tools in a variety of settings. He joined SUU in 2014 and received SUU’s Outstanding Educator of the Year Award in 2016. To learn more, book an interview via the profile link above.

1 min

Southern Paiute Rhetoric Class Teaches Native Culture

Southern Utah University has always valued its surrounding area's history and diversity. The University offers a myriad of classes on culture, diversity, inclusion, and the like, and it just added another. The Southern Paiute and Native American Rhetoric class (ENGL 4160), taught by Dr. Julia Combs, is providing students with the unique opportunity to better understand the language and culture of the Southern Paiute people that reside in southern Utah. “The real purpose of the class is to learn to listen rhetorically, to learn what kinds of communication are valuable to the group, and learn how to be better allies in their efforts to preserve their culture,” said Dr. Combs, English professor and director of SUU’s Writing Center. “To set aside biases and listen to what someone is saying and why they’re saying it. I think the students are really benefiting from this kind of cultural enrichment.” Knowledge-keepers, or Elders, from the Southern Paiute tribe, are invited to the class to teach about their culture and their language, and each student’s job is to practice rhetorical listening–a way of critically thinking while remaining open to new ideas surrounding people, culture, and language. Dr. Julia Combs's research focuses on the history of rhetoric, particularly feminist rhetoric of the seventeenth century, the rhetoric of place and space and writing in the disciplines. Book an interview via her profile link above. 

2 min

Dr. Jackie Grant Awarded Renowned Fulbright Fellowship

Southern Utah University is pleased to announce that Dr. Jacqualine Grant, associate professor of geosciences, museum curator, and published scientific illustrator, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to conduct conservation biology teaching and research in New Zealand. Dr. Grant is among very few that have received the Fulbright Scholar award and is the first female recipient from SUU. Dr. Grant will perform research and lead seminars at Massey University in Palmerston North as part of a project to understand native plant diversity and its cultural significance. She will also spend five months at the New Zealand Indigenous Flora Seed Bank working with colleagues to identify the components of the Maori seed-banking protocol that can be applied to a Paiute seed-banking program. “Being awarded a Fulbright in 2019 was both very exciting and stressful because of the timing,” said Dr. Grant. “I received news of the award just months before everything shut down due to COVID-19. The project’s original date was set to begin in 2021, but my host country, New Zealand, closed its borders to most travelers until the summer of 2022. It's a huge and humbling honor to be awarded a Fulbright, and the award comes with a big responsibility because you are expected to represent the people of the United States.” Led by the United States government in partnership with more than 160 countries worldwide, the Fulbright Program offers international educational and cultural exchange programs for passionate and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, or pursue important research and professional projects.

View all posts