By Jonathan O’Donnell

The University of Melbourne just ran its first crowdfunding trial. Three of the four campaigns didn’t reach their targets. Did they fail?

No, they didn’t. Over four weeks, the University raised $40,036 for research. That’s a win, in my terms.

The four projects keep all the funds raised, whether they reached their target or not. In crowdfunding terms, they were ‘keep it all’ (or flexible funding) projects.

This is the model the University of Western Australia uses for crowdfunding. It comes from charitable fundraising, where “ever dollar helps.” It suits projects that have variable costs, like consumables or fieldwork.

It doesn’t suit projects that need a fixed amount of funding. You can’t buy half a piece of equipment, so you need an “all or nothing” campaign. Kickstarter and Pozible use this model and Deakin University used it for their crowdfunding.

Of the four University of Melbourne campaigns, everybody thought that the Eastern Barred Bandicoots would easily reach their target. Who wouldn’t want to save a cute bandicoot? They did raise the largest amount ($14,841 from 135 donors), but didn’t reach their $18,000 target.

However, concentrating on the target misses the point. Don’t ask why they didn’t raise $18,000. Ask how they did raise $14,841 in four weeks. Could you do that?

Some fundraisers talk about a 100:1 ratio – for every 100 people who look at your campaign page, one will donate. Using that ratio, their 135 donors translates into 13,500 people who now know about the plight of the Eastern Barred Bandicoots. Of those people, 135 were motivated enough to vote with their wallets. To my mind, that’s a great result for research.

Disclosure: I donated $75 to the Victorian women trailblazers project, and I spoke at length with them, encouraging them in their efforts. I promoted all four projects through my social media accounts.

Jonathan O’Donnell helps people get funding for their research at RMIT. He loves his job so much that he has enrolled in a PhD to look at crowdfunding for research. With Tseen Khoo, he runs the Research Whisperer blog and @ResearchWhisper Twitter stream, about doing research in academia.


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