#SciFri: Tips on crowdfunding for scientific research
Recently a number of people have been asking for my advice and opinions on crowdfunding as a source of funding scientific research. Crowdfunding is a untapped stream in my mind, allowing groups to still carry out their research when grants have been rejected and things are looking bleak. I think this is particularly important given the current coronavirus pandemic which will likely see research budgets stretched or favouring certain topics, I can see herpetology being at the bottom of this list. With all of that in mind I’ve decided to give you my top 10 tips to funding your research project through crowdfunding.
1. Find a platform that is right for you – There are a number of different platforms out there. They all run slightly differently, have different fee policies and funding policies. Personally I find Experiment.com to be my personal favourite, I’ve now used it to successfully fund two projects looking at midwife toads (Alytes obstetricans) in the UK. When searching for a potential platform, don’t forget to look at the FAQs or contact them directly to see if they can answer your questions. If all else fails, contact someone who is running a current campaign on the platform and see if they have any advice or input.
2. Create a video – As scientists we are pushed to write mountains of text in order to get our point across to our peers or back an argument up. That’s great for those purposes but when it comes to the general public, a 10,000 word essay is going to put them off. Instead, create a 30-60 second long video highlighting the need for your given research topic and why it is important. If you want people to part with their hard-earned cash, you’re going to need to give them a solid reason.
3. Utilise social media – In today’s modern age, what is the fastest way to reach the biggest audience? Social media. Do what ever you can to raise awareness for your project and use as many platforms as possible. Share images, stories or anecdotes that will draw people in to the project.
4. Create a hashtag – The use of social media is one thing, but it is important to keep in mind how all of that information is tied together. On platforms such as Twitter, it is best to create a dedicated hashtag so that once someone discovers your project, they can view the previous posts you’ve made and follow the progress. An example of one I’ve used for the midwife toad research is #UKMidwifeToads. It’s simple, it’s sleek and it’s keeps all of my posts about the project in one location for anyone to view.
5. Have a precise budget – When it comes to the budget breakdown for your project, try to be as precise as possible. This isn’t always easy due to fluctuations in the price of some consumables/services especially in light of varying exchange rates. However the more precise your breakdown is, the more it shows how much time and thought has gone into the planning of every step of the way.
6. Take platform fees into account – As mentioned earlier, different platforms have varying policies on fees. When you’ve worked out your budget, add on an additional percentage (depending on the platform) to account for these fees. This way you won’t be surprised when you’re payout amount is lower than what you were expecting.
7. Have a realistic target – Both of the projects I’ve successfully run through Experiment have been below $2000. With both of these, we exceeded our targets but if we’d asked for any more I fear that we wouldn’t have made it. Experiment only charges donors and pays out the money if you reach your target, the more realistic it is – the more likely you are to make it.
8. Look for matched funds – Whilst you may not be able to find a grant for the whole amount (especially for larger projects), if your crowdfunding campaign is going well look for matched funding. Sometimes funding bodies are more likely to provide funds if you can show that you have been successful elsewhere. They may not always match the amount you’ve already gained but even small amounts add up.
9. Keep the community involved – As you make progress throughout the course of your campaign as well as post-funding, keep everyone updated with what is going on. Again this could be through a blog post, a video or another means. I personally like to use Experiment’s ‘Lab Notes’ system which is essentially a blog built into your crowdfunding page that you can contribute to throughout the life of your project and beyond! I’ve also authored pieces for FrogLog (the Amphibian Survival Alliance publication) and appeared on podcasts to ensure that the community that formed around the project is well informed as to our progress and next steps.
10. Finally, have fun – Crowdfunding isn’t as serious as writing a grant. Most funds come from within your networks and the rest from people outside with little to no scientific background. Why is this important? We’re all human and the more fun you can have along the way, especially when finding novel ways to promote your project, can have a huge impact on your morale and hopefully donations.
Fingers crossed that everything makes sense and that you can go away now and make full use of the multitude of crowdfunding platforms out there, to fund your scientific research project. One last thing to think about is timing. How long will it take for you to gather the funds you need and when do you need them by? These will vary by project and platform but hopefully these are thoughts you’ve already had. Best of luck!
Note: In no way is this post endorsed or sponsored by Experiment.com, I’ve used them a couple of times in the past and I’ve found the platform to be user-friendly and effective.
If you liked this post and enjoy reading this blog, please consider supporting me on Patreon where you will also gain access to exclusive content.