Crowdfunding your science: part 2

6/5/2019 5:46:36 PM

This week we continue our two-part series on how to crowdfund your science. This post features advice from science professionals on effective marketing and outreach strategies for running a successful crowdfunding campaign. Be sure to check out the first part in this series, which offers tips on selecting a project and crowdfunding platform.

I previously reached out to Sandlin Seguin, who has been involved with multiple successfully crowdfunded projects, to get some tips on designing an effective campaign. While she prefaced her advice with the caveat that there is “no fail-proof plan for success,” she said it’s best to develop a marketing strategy before launching the crowdfunding campaign. This includes having template materials (e.g., form emails, social-media posts) ready to go and assigning outreach tasks among your team members.    

Sandlin also recommends generating buzz and making personal appeals to family and friends early on in the project timeline, so you can get some initial donors. “In the first week, we asked people to donate any amount to help us get the number of supporters up, and we got a lot of small donations,” she said. “That helped to build the momentum, since a campaign with 20 backers looks more legitimate than one without any.”  

Another way to show credibility is to ask for endorsements from people who can attest to the validity of your project and your capability to carry out the work. The crowdfunding platform Experiment has this option built in and prominently displays endorsements on the project site.  

Besides tapping into your personal networks, you need to have as many people as possible looking at your project. “For every 100 people that visit a project page, on average, one to two people take out their credit card to donate,” Cindy Wu, co-founder of Experiment, said. “You can use that conversion rate to calculate how many pageviews a project will need to succeed.”  

Research conducted by the SciFund Challenge team resulted in a similar conversion rate. To break it down further, they calculated the following pageview stats from crowdfunding projects in their experiment: one view per tweet per 70 followers on Twitter; 1.7 views per email; and 92 views per press contact. Overall, they concluded the amount of funding correlates with the size of your crowd (i.e., total number of contributors) and how engaged they are.  

Therefore, you’ll need to decide which communication channels will work best to reach your target audiences and maximize the number of pageviews. As an example, Sandlin and her team timed the release of one crowdfunding campaign with the publication of a front-page newspaper article about their organization.    

Another important consideration is engaging project backers in your work as much as possible. With respect to this, Sandlin suggests making the project site into “easy marketing material” that clearly explains the mission of your lab or organization and what the project is all about. This can include posting a short video or photographs that visually explain your work. Experiment also enables project organizers to add lab notes with status updates and supplementary info.

An additional way to engage and increase funding success is to offer perks to project backers. You can have different levels or packages of incentives based on the donation amount. Some ideas for perks include acknowledging donors on social media, hosting a lab tour, access to exclusive updates about the project, naming a lab animal or new species, or sending out personalized sci-artwork.

However, Jai Ranganathan, executive director of SciFund Challenge, emphasizes that public engagement needs to begin long before launching a crowdfunding campaign. “You need your crowd first before you can get funding,” he explained in a video on the organization’s website.

Jai mentions most people who donate do so because of their connection to the researcher, not the project. Thus, crowdfunding doesn’t really work outside the context of long-term science outreach, which he compares to doing the base training required before competing in a marathon. This is why SciFund Challenge primarily supports scientists with their crowdfunding efforts through sci-comm training (e.g., creating science videos with a smartphone).

Ultimately, crowdfunding should not be viewed as a means to an end, but, instead, as another avenue to further engage the public in science. For example, Sandlin met people who were inspired to get more involved with their organization because they had helped out financially. Jai also sees crowdfunding itself as a way to reward researchers for their science-outreach efforts, because, in reality, there can be little professional incentives for doing so otherwise.


Recommended resources

Crowdfunding resources page (SciFund Challenge)
Crowdfunding scientific research: Descriptive insights and correlates of funding success (PLoS ONE)
Researcher guide (Experiment)
Running a successful crowdfunding campaign (Lab Manager)
To crowdfund research, scientists must build an audience for their work (PLoS ONE)
Where is crowdfunding in science headed? (Lab Manager)
With funding becoming scarce, scientists are looking to the public for help (ASBMB Today)

Editor's note

If you're interested in participating in the ASBMB's Art of Science Communication course, the next session is scheduled for October. Applications will be accepted starting Sept. 3. Learn more.

Donna Kridelbaugh is a contributor to the ASBMB Careers Blog. She holds an advanced degree in microbiology and is a former lab manager.   

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