Developing successful crowdfunding campaigns for university research projects
Crowdfunding allows people to solicit funds from many people, usually through the internet, to realize an entrepreneurial, artistic, or social goal. It has also emerged as a potential source of funding for scientific research, especially for projects that may not fit the conventional criteria of traditional funding agencies or that may benefit from engaging with a wider audience. Here, I will discuss some key aspects of crowdfunding that universities need to keep in mind for research projects and provide some examples and tips to help you launch and manage a successful campaign.
The growing importance of crowdfunding for university research projects
Crowdfunding may seem like an unusual way of raising money for research compared to tried-and-true methods, but it can offer several advantages, including:
- Diversifying funding sources: It can supplement the existing grants or contracts from public or private sources, providing more flexibility and autonomy for researchers to pursue their ideas.
- Increasing the visibility and impact of research: Universities can reach a broader audience, including potential collaborators, users, and beneficiaries of their research. Crowdfunding also allows universities to communicate their research goals and outcomes in an accessible and engaging way, letting them demonstrate the relevance and value of their work to society.
- Enhancing the public engagement and participation in research: Crowdfunding can foster a closer relationship between universities and the public. Crowdfunding gives the public an opportunity to go from being passive consumers of scientific discovery to becoming stakeholders, increasing their appreciation of science, and potentially inspiring more people to pursue scientific careers.
Finding a suitable crowdfunding platform
Many crowdfunding platforms are available. Some platforms are general-purpose and cater to many projects, such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe, while others are specialized and focus on specific domains or communities. The country is also important; countries like South Korea, Japan, and the United States may have different strategies for success. When picking a crowdfunding platform, key considerations include:
Reputation and credibility
Use platforms that have a track record of hosting successful research campaigns, have a clear and transparent policy on how they handle the funds raised, and have a large and active user base that is interested in science.
Alignment with your research goals and values
Look for platforms that respect your university’s vision and intellectual property rights and allow the university to maintain control over its project.
Fees and requirements
You should look for platforms that charge reasonable fees for their services, have realistic or adjustable funding goals and deadlines, and have clear and fair terms and conditions for both creators and backers.
Examples of crowdfunding platforms that are dedicated or suitable for research projects
- Experiment.com is the world’s largest open platform for funding science research. It is donation-based and all-or-nothing, meaning that backers receive no material rewards for funding and creators only receive the funds if they reach their goal within their stipulated time limit. Experiment.com also provides various resources and tools to help creators plan, launch, and manage their campaigns. The trending experiments are quite inspiring, such as this open source digital PCR machine from Japan.
- MedStartr is a medicine-specific crowdfunding platform. Similar to Experiment, it offers an all-or-nothing funding, but additionally offers keep-what-you-raise funding. One key point is that it places a lot of emphasis on offering assistance to creators, with special packages offered to help with marketing.
Preparing for a crowdfunding campaign
Successful crowdfunding, like any other funding endeavor, relies on the quality of your preparation. An excellent place to start is SciFund Challenge, a community of scientists who have crowdfunded their projects on various platforms. They have also published a paper in PLOS One with excellent insights into crowdfunding and the importance of public engagement. Some steps you should take are as follows:
Define your research question and objectives
You should have a clear and specific research question that you want to answer with your project, and a set of measurable and achievable objectives that you want to accomplish with the funds raised.
Conduct a feasibility study and a budget analysis
Naturally, you should assess the viability of your project and budget the same way you would any grant proposal before conducting it. You should also determine the minimum and optimal amount of funds that you need to complete your project.
Identify your target audience and potential backers
Who would be interested in, benefit from, or otherwise willing and able to support your project financially? Research their preferences, motivations, and expectations and to reach out to them effectively.
Crafting a compelling campaign pitch
There are many online resources on creating a campaign pitch for crowdfunding, but some key takeaways include:
Use a catchy title: Choose a title that summarizes the project clearly, and an image or video that captures the attention and curiosity of potential backers. These should reflect the research question and your main deliverables.
Summarize concisely: At the start of your pitch, provide a brief overview of your project that covers the main points of your research question, objectives, methods, and expected outcomes.
Describe thoroughly and transparently: Provide more details about the project that explain the background, rationale, design, and expected results of the research. You should also provide evidence of the credibility and expertise of the research team involved.
Provide realistic goals and deadlines: You need to state how much money you need to raise to complete your project successfully, and by when you need to raise it. You should also justify how you will use the funds raised and provide a breakdown of the budget items.
Offer attractive rewards or incentives (if applicable): While many science-specific platforms do not focus on this, rewards are a major part of platforms like Kickstarter. Providing an increasing scale of rewards depending on their pledge amount to incentivize giving larger sums. Your incentives can be relevant to your field of research, such as acknowledgments and in-depth access to data, or more personal ones such as souvenirs or experiences. Crucially, rewards or incentives should also be feasible to deliver within the time frame and budget of your project.
Tips for launching and managing the campaign
Reach out: Use any available channels to reach out to your target audience and potential backers, such as social media, email, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, or webinars. You should also leverage your existing network of contacts such as alumni and ask them to share or endorse your campaign with their networks.
Engage: Communicating regularly with your backers throughout the campaign is vital. Provide updates, answering questions, and solicit feedback. You should also create a sense of community by inviting them to participate in surveys, quizzes, or contests, or by creating a group chat or forum for peer-to-peer communication.
Monitor performance: You should track and analyze various metrics and indicators of your campaign performance such as number of views, pledges, shares, and conversions to identify what works well and what needs improvement in your campaign.
Sharing the impact of your crowdfunding campaign
After any campaign, follow up with your backers and other stakeholders, including your institution’s media relations office. By sharing the outcomes and impact achieved through the crowdfunding campaign, you can foster further sharing to guide your future fundraising efforts.
Crowdfunding can be an attractive option for universities, especially those that have already invested effort into building strong relationships with the general public and wider scientific community. By choosing the right platform and crafting a compelling pitch, you can leverage public interest in science as well as your university’s brand image to garner support for a variety of research projects.