Scientific research costs money. And in times where the economy isn’t exactly booming, it’s an area where, wrongfully I believe, budget cuts are quite likely to occur. When austerity reigns, governments and funding agencies alike allocate less and less capital to scientific research. Time to consider alternative routes of funding. One of these relies on the ‘crowd’, and is aptly termed crowdfunding. Basically, asking people from the general population for support.
A recent article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution briefly discusses this alternative means of funding your (or others’) research.
Before you start the crowdfunding process, you’ll have to choose the platform you want to use. Keep in mind that:
- The platforms are businesses, meaning they want to make some profit. Usually they ask for about 8 – 12% of the money raised.
- Some platforms use an all-or-nothing formula. This means that, if the goal is not reached, the scientists get nothing and the donors are not charged. Others allow for partial funding.
- Platforms can be general or science-centric. The former generally attract more visitors, however the latter are probably visited more by a science-minded crowd. But, as we’ll see below, the platform is not the main key to success.
Feel free to add more in the comments…
After you’ve picked the platform, you’ll have to convince people that your project is worth their investment. Usually you’ll be presented with two options to do so: a description and a video. Major tips for both are:
- Use as little jargon as possible.
- Be creative.
- Be passionate and enthusiastic.
Also, in return for the investment the funders often expect some kind of reward from the fundee(s). This, however, can be interpreted liberally. A mention on publications, a t-shirt, invitation to research seminars, signed photographs of the lab, the animals used (if any), … Again, be creative here.
In short, the key to success in crowdfunding, as the name implies, is to build a crowd. Let people know (social media can be particularly useful for this), show them why your project matters and convince them it’s worth their contribution. If you succeed in this, it doesn’t matter how obscure your topic might be.
Finally, crowfunding science is a bottom-up funding approach, where many (usually) small contributions enable research, rather than the top-down approach wherein one (or a limited number) of funding agencies allocate big sums. This means that the necessity of, and possibility for, outreach is much greater. You can reach a lot of people. You have to if you want to succeed, remember? And that’s not a bad thing.
To conclude I’m quoting the complete concluding remarks from the authors:
Completing a crowdfunding project marks only the beginning of the relationship between scientists and the ‘crowd’. Scientists who spend time nurturing these relationships and cultivating new ones will likely experience rewards beyond monetary gain. The true potential of crowdfunding lies not in raising funds for conducting research, but in the opportunities for public outreach and science education engendered by this type of funding model. Presently, the great majority of research never reaches a broader audience, contributing to the mistrust and misunderstanding of science among the general public. Crowdfunding, how-ever, has the potential to shift this paradigm by encouraging scientific transparency and public involvement in the earliest stages of the research process and fostering lasting ties between scientists and nonscientists.
Wheat, R., Wang, Y., Byrnes, J., & Ranganathan, J. (2012). Raising money for scientific research through crowdfunding Trends in Ecology & Evolution DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.11.001