Can crowdfunding research bear fruit?

Who is going to fund your research? A grant making body? A government body? Your institution? Industry? A private individual? Perhaps hundreds of individuals from around the globe who would like to see you succeed and may require little accountability for your research outcomes?

Crowdfunding can be a good way to secure funding for pilot studies to get preliminary data for official grant schemes. However, gaining funding in this way is usually in addition to your workload and does not get the recognition that funding secured through more traditional routes can bring. The advantage of crowdfunding is that you will develop ways to communicate your research that will have mass appeal. It is a way to engage the public in your area of research, and can create a stronger sense of inclusion and communal support between the public and scholarly research.

It’s all about the numbers

Crowdfunding success depends on the number of people who see your campaign. The more people who see your campaign the greater the potential for securing funding. A couple of ways to really help increase the visibility of your campaign are quirky catchy campaign titles and short and engaging videos, (if you have a smart phone you can make a video). The success of a crowdfunding campaign is also often linked to the popularity of the research area.

One Microbiologist, Dr Mel Thomson, took part in a pilot exploring crowdfunding for research. The pilot was run by Deborah Verhoevan, Professor of Media and Communications at Deakin University. Microbiology is generally not popular with philanthropists, so Mel developed quirky campaigns such as ‘Mighty Maggots,’ which transformed maggots from grotesque fearful things into superheroes of the medical world and secured 105% of its target amount, and ‘Hips 4 Hipsters’ a campaign which focused on antimicrobial resistance. Click here for more about the project which was reviewed on the Research Whisperer blog.

What are the different types of crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding for research campaigns are usually donation based. The platform with the most established stringent approval process for donation based funding is Kickstarter.

There are three basic types of crowdfunding:

  1. Reward/donation based crowdfunding

In return for pledging money to a campaign, backers may receive token rewards that increase in prestige as the size of the donation increases; for small sums, the funder may receive nothing at all. Sometimes referred to as rewards crowdfunding, the tokens for donations may include pre-sales of an item to be produced with funds raised. Charities and research projects often use this type of crowdfunding. As this type of crowdfunding is predicated on donations, funders do not obtain any ownership or rights to the project, nor do they become creditors to the project.

  1. Peer-to-peer lending

In this model those running peer-to-peer campaigns are able to access funds outside traditional banking channels. The lenders are people willing to take a risk to lend money to other individuals via the digital platforms.

  1. Equity crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding enables individuals to invest in a company that is not listed on a stock exchange, in return for shares in that company, and so become shareholders. As shareholders have partial ownership of the company they stand to profit, should the company do well. The opposite is also true; should the company fail investors can lose some, or all, of their investment.

Which crowdfunding platform should I use?

Crowdfunding initially interested the academic community in between 2012 and 2013 and has since petered out. However, there are a few platforms that academics are currently using to raise funds for research and may be worth exploring. Each of these crowdfunding portals has its own set of methods for putting a campaign together. Click here for a useful set of guidelines you can follow. The format of these guidelines is for a rewards/donation based campaign but the basic rules will help you put together any format campaign.

The crowdfunding platforms which have hosted recent successful research campaigns are:

  1. Experiment
  2. Kickstarter
  3. Rockethub

The pros and cons of crowdfunding

Crowdfunding raises the question of accountability, but as one commentator notes, if the crowdfunded work is then published in a reputable peer reviewed journal, the generally accepted checks and balances are in place. But there is also the hotly debated topic of open access publishing. Potentially dubious research could be crowdfunded and then published on open access. Or you could view it as a quick way to fund research and disseminate useful results.

Crowdfunding also raises the issue of who is responsible for funding research? Is it the government or is it the responsibility of individual researchers and research teams? One commentator surmises that crowdfunding is just another avenue for raising funds, in much the same way as raising funds from industry sponsors.

Closing thoughts

Is crowdfunding a flash in the pan or is it gaining momentum? It seems that institutions with more secure and established routes to funding channels view crowdfunding with a degree of scepticism. The success of campaigns rests on how accessibly you communicate your research.

Digital communications have the capacity to change the way research is funded, reviewed and disseminated, but where are the checks and balances and where does responsibility lie for funding? All of these questions are yet to be clearly answered, and there is no one size that fits all.


Is Crowdfunded Science Crap?

List of the Best Academic Research on Crowdfunding

Crowdfunded science: harnessing the wisdom of the crowd, or selling out?

Peer-to-Peer Lending

What is equity crowdfunding?

Donation-Based Crowdfunding Sites: Kickstarter Vs. Indiegogo

Learn About Rewards-Based Crowdfunding

What Is Crowdfunding?

Donation-Based Crowdfunding

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