Crowdfunding 101

(October 25th, 2016) Thinking of crowdfunding your project, but don’t know where to start? Mike Schaefer, from the University of Zurich, investigates what factors make for a successful project. It turns out that jargon and dense scientific content are not very popular.

Every scientist is always on the look-out for new sources of funding. As it gets harder and harder to find traditional forms of income, researchers are starting to turn to crowdfunding as a way to finance their ideas. New crowdfunding sites are popping up like mushrooms, from general ones like Kickstarter, to science-specific options like Walacea, but what exactly makes for a successful science project in one of these sites? Mike Schaefer and his team based at the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, decided to find out.

It all started with a failed project. As Schafer explains, “Friends of mine tried crowdfunding once, without success, and I was wondering, which of the projects actually came through.” After a little digging through the various projects, the researcher noticed a considerable range in the style of presentations, some opting for a serious tone full with scientific jargon while others favoured a lighter description with some humour thrown in.

After analysing 371 projects, from modest requests to fund a research trip to more ambitious projects to build a prototype, Schaefer found a few distinct factors crucial for success on crowdfunding platforms: “Firstly, projects are successful if they are presented on crowdfunding platforms that specialise in crowdfunding science.” In this case, sites like Experiment or Sciencestarter are better for scientific applicants, more than general platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. “Secondly,” adds the researcher, “it is important that projects are extensively visualised, using pictures, videos or animations, and that they are humorously presented.” It seems potential donors penalise projects that resort to a heavy scientific explanation full of difficult to understand jargon. From a practical point of view, donors are also more likely to part with their money if they can donate in an easy and secure way, without giving away too much information about personal details.

Of all these results, researchers were baffled by the low importance donors gave to a serious scientific description. “We were actually surprised that indicators of the projects' or applicants' scientific quality - like the academic titles of the applicants, the complexity or length of the project descriptions, awards or testimonials by well-known colleagues - did not play a measurable role for crowdfunding success.”

Not surprisingly, this has left Schaefer a little worried. At a first glance, it does seems donors cannot distinguish between good and bad science, but instead rely on exciting presentations to make their choices. “This was literally the first scholarly foray into this field, so we need more studies backing our findings up or modifying them, and it is certainly possible that we did not think of some features of project applications that are important. But as it is, it looks a little worrying.”

Despite these limitations, it is very likely that crowdfunding is only going to become more popular with researchers around the world. After all, it offers better chances than most funding agencies. “Two-thirds of the projects are successful - this beats any funding agency, by far. And in addition, it is often not easy for early-career scholars to find places where they can get small amounts of money,” says Schaefer. “I haven't [tried] yet, but I certainly will now,” concludes the researcher. “After all, this is one of the rare occasions where I, as a researcher, can actually test my research outside the office.”

Alex Reis

Photo: Pixabay/bohed

Last Changes: 11.18.2016

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