A happy crowd

“Crowdfunding on HawksNest” workshop re-capped

HawksNest screenshot. Text: HawksNest. Tabs - Discover, About. Sign In. HawksNest hatching new ideas. Search Projects. Start Project. Images for 4 projects are shown.

On Thursday, December 7, I led a hands-on workshop for Miami University faculty, staff, and students interested in using Miami’s homegrown crowdfunding platform, HawksNest, to fund a research, scholarly, creative, or service project. I’m sharing the highlights here.

After I gave them a tour of HawksNest, participants discussed what they currently think or know about crowdfunding. Many seemed to recognize that, despite superficial appearances, crowdfunding might not be an easy, hands-off way to raise money.

In fact, as I shared, there are three keys to a successful crowdfunding campaign:

  • Narrative
  • Images and video
  • Strategy for targeting prospective donors

Narrative

Every crowdfunding campaign must tell a clear and compelling story. This is accomplished through:

  • An engaging, non-technical title
  • Friendly, easily accessible language
  • Descriptions that invite visualization

In addition, projects that have cultural relevance to a specific geographical area can be compelling.

Images and video

All images and video must advance the narrative. Video should be included whenever possible, and — thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets — it’s almost always possible. It’s important to remember that in crowdfunding, authenticity matters more than glitzy production value. It’s possible for almost anyone to shoot good, inexpensive video by following these tips:

  • Good lighting + good sound = good enough. If your video is well-lit (shoot outside if you can) and the people talking on it can be heard clearly, then you can use that video for your crowdfunding campaign.
  • Make sure your video runs no more than 2-3 minutes long.
  • Keep your messaging tight. Answer these questions: Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Why are you crowdfunding it?
  • Include a clear call-to-action. Explicitly ask viewers to support your project and to share it with their online social networks.

Strategy for targeting donors

Successful crowdfunding requires engagement from the project owner(s) before, during, and after the actual campaign.

Before

Prior to campaign launch, team members need to activate their personal networks. That means recruiting active champions who will help you spread the word about your campaign and reaching out directly to your personal contacts.

Evidence suggests you should aim to raise 30% of your funding goal directly from your team’s personal contacts because that’s the point at which strangers have enough social proof about the worthiness of your project to take a chance on its success. Statistics from crowdfunding sites show that raising 30% of your funding goal in the first week of a campaign translates into an 80% chance of fully meeting your goal, while raising just 5% of your goal in the first week reduces your ultimate chance of success to just 50%.

On average, you can expect just 3% of the people you and your team contact personally to donate to your project, so it’s important to contact as many people as possible. The following formula will give you a target number of contacts:

  • Divide your funding goal by $25, which is the most common crowdfunding contribution. That gives you the number of $25 donations you need to reach your goal.
  • Multiply the number you got above by 10 to account for the 3% average response rate and the goal to raise 30% of your target amount from personal contacts.

Example:

  • $1000 funding goal/$25 = 40 (number of $25 donations needed to raise $1000)
  • 40  x 10 = 400 messages

With a 3% response rate, a team can expect about 12 donations to result from 400 personal contacts. At $25 each, 12 donations total $300, which is 30% of the $1000 funding goal.

During

Together, team members should spend 1-2 hours each day “working” your campaign. Suggested activities include:

  • Sharing and engaging on social media channels
  • Posting updates to the crowdfunding project page
  • Following up with active champions recruited during the “before” phase
  • Hosting an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on Reddit
  • Writing and sending press releases
  • Planning and hosting a campaign-related event

After

Be sure to thank your active champions and your donors. This helps them feel good about what they did and may make them more likely to support your next project. Also be sure to post updates on the crowdfunding project page. That lets donors know you’re following through on what you promised to do. Sharing results on the project page — when you have them — lets donors know what they “got” for their money.

Case studies and campaign tool kits

Following the “lecture” part of the workshop, participants studied the following project pages on Experiment to identify the ways in which they did and did not look like successful crowdfunding campaigns:

Finally, I distributed campaign tool kits, stocked with resources for running a successful crowdfunding campaign, and participants got a chance to begin using those resources in support of their planned projects. Among the resources in the tool kit were:

Anyone at Miami interested in learning more about HawksNest can attend one of the following events:

  • “Introduction to HawksNest Crowdfunding” session at the Regionals’ Winter Recharge on Thursday, January 18, at 1:30pm on the Middletown Campus.
  • An encore presentation of the “Crowdfunding on HawksNest” workshop on Tuesday, January 23, from 10:30am to noon in the Advanced Instructional Space (AIS), 134 King Library.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Crowd photo by Moses via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.

Red-tailed hawk in flight.

HawksNest crowdfunding platform is accepting project submissions

 

Screenshot of HawksNest homepage

Together with University Advancement, OARS has developed a crowdfunding platform specifically designed to engage alumni, family, and friends of Miami University.

Through HawksNest, alumni, family, and friends can directly support the research, scholarship, and service projects of Miami University students, faculty, and staff.

This is how HawksNest works.

  • Any Miami University student, faculty, or staff member may complete an online application to have a project considered for funding.
  • An internal review team assesses applications and posts approved projects on HawksNest for a maximum of 45 days.
  • Potential donors visit the site to learn about and pledge funds to approved projects.
  • Once a funding goal has been met, the project can begin!
  • Project managers use the site to keep donors up-to-date with information on the project’s progress.

Miami faculty, staff, and students can submit projects anytime.

We encourage Miami faculty, staff, and students with great ideas that could be implemented for under $6000 to create a HawksNest account and submit the project for review today.

Want to know more before you commit?

Check out our FAQs and project review criteria. And — since crowdfunding is successful only when project managers actively promote their projects — also be sure to check out these tips for using social media to promote your campaign.

Ready to get started? Visit HawksNest.MiamiOH.edu now.


Red-tailed hawk photo by Rick Bohn of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Moutain-Prairie via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Lauren Fussner stands beside a poster describing her research on adolescent depression, sensitivity to social feedback, and social functioning.

Project takes flight on HawksNest

Lauren Fussner and another person sit at a table reviewing paper documents and consulting a laptop.
Lauren Fussner, left, is lead investigator of the first project successfully funded through HawksNest, a new crowdfunding platform at Miami University.

Lauren Fussner, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Miami University, is lead investigator on the first project successfully funded through Miami’s new crowdfunding site, HawksNest.

Fussner says she was excited about using HawksNest to raise funds for her project because she had previously had difficulty obtaining funds from national funding sources to support her project. HawksNest allowed her reach people who had a personal interest in her project, which seeks to identify shared or common risk factors contributing to depression and eating disorders in adolescent females.

“Instead of competing broadly, on a larger scale, I was able to network through my personal contacts, as well as reach out to individuals who may have a personal interest in helping teens with depression and eating disorders,” Fussner says.

Crowdfunding allows researchers who, like Fussner, are conducting meaningful research and have a compelling story to tell, to raise funds by leveraging personal networks. This requires both initial generation of excitement about the project, as well as continuous promotion throughout the campaign (learn more here).

Fussner posted information about her project on her personal Facebook account and encouraged others in her lab to do the same. She also used contacts from her Notre Dame undergraduate Facebook alumni group and clinical psychology alumni group to help spread the word about her project.

Fussner further attributes her fundraising success to setting a realistic, attainable goal.

“With a modest goal of just over $500, we were able to raise our funds quickly. After the first donation was made, others quickly followed,” she says.

HawksNest was created to help Miami University students, faculty, and staff engage the Miami community to help fund student-centered projects.


Written by Tricia Callahan, Director for Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Images courtesy of Lauren Fussner.

A crowd of people. Several are raising their hands.

Following these tips can help improve crowdfunding success

The word "Crowdfunding" is spelled out using Scrabble tiles.

Miami University’s new crowdfunding platform, HawksNest — which we wrote about last week — offers an excellent opportunity for Miami students, faculty, and staff to seek funding for projects that might be difficult to fund through traditional channels. However, it’s important for prospective project owners to recognize that managing a successful crowdfunding campaign is quite different from developing a traditional proposal.

Here are some tips to make crowdfunding through HawksNest work for you:

1. Tell a compelling story.

Most people make spending decisions based on feelings, not thoughts. They choose to spend money on things that make them feel good about themselves, so you need to tell the story of your project in a way that shows prospective donors what they will get from supporting your project. Try reframing your perspective so that you do not think of your crowdfunding campaign as asking for money, but rather as offering self-satisfaction. You’re offering donors a chance to feel good about themselves by helping to make a discovery that could lead to a cure, or to solve a longstanding mystery, or to challenge unhelpful assumptions. And of course you’re offering them a chance to help students learn and achieve.

To tell your story effectively:

  • Choose an engaging, non-technical title for your project. For instance, “Sugar: Does It Really Make Children Hyper?” is preferable to “Metabolic Effects of Fructose in a Randomized, Controlled Trial of Children Between the Ages of 6 and 10 Years.”
  • Describe your project using friendly, easily accessible language that is suitable for non-experts.
  • Describe your project in a way that helps prospective donors visualize the result or outcome.
  • Select a photo that is visually interesting and supports your project narrative.

If you do this well, visitors to your campaign page will perceive the quality of your project as high, and will feel confident supporting it with a donation.

One thing to note is that projects that are culturally relevant to a specific geographic region are more likely to be fully funded. So, if your project fits in that category and you have a strong personal network in the relevant region (see #3 below), then play that up in your project description. For example, if you are from South Carolina and leverage your network of personal contacts from home, you could have strong success with a project that seeks to document and preserve the Gullah language native to the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry.

It’s also important to remember that your story doesn’t end once your project posts to HawksNest. Continue to post updates — on HawksNest and your social media accounts (see #3 below) — during and after the campaign. Your visible engagement helps prospective donors have confidence in the project and gives existing donors a feel-good rush (which makes them more likely to donate again).

2. Choose the right campaign length and goal.

Of course, you should always ask for what you actually need, both in terms of money and in terms of time, but within that context it’s helpful to know that more is not necessarily better. While HawksNest allows project owners to set a funding goal of up to $6000 and a campaign duration of up to 45 days, statistically speaking, projects that fall at the higher end of the range on either count are less likely to experience success. Data from other crowdfunding sites suggest that the sweet spot is a funding goal of about $3000 and a campaign duration of about 30 days.

3. Leverage your personal network.

People you don’t know personally are more likely to support your project if they see other people supporting it. This is the concept behind baristas’ “salting” their tip jars with a few dollar bills at the beginning of the day. With crowdfunding, the way you salt the tip jar is by getting people you know to donate to your project first.

Evidence from other crowdfunding platforms suggests that you should aim to raise 30% of your funding goal from your personal contacts. This is the point at which outsiders begin to have confidence that a project will succeed. (See #4 below for a reason it’s important to reach the 30% threshold early in your campaign.)

Large social media networks correlate to greater success for crowdfunding campaigns, so post often to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Also be sure to ask people in your network to share your posts with their networks, because outside links to a crowdfunding campaign also increase the likelihood of success.

But don’t rely on public posts alone — be sure to reach out personally as well. Send private messages on Facebook, direct messages on Twitter, even old-fashioned email. On average, you can expect about 3% of the people you contact personally to donate to your project. So to figure out how many contacts you need to send emails or other personal messages to, take your funding goal, divide it by $25 (the most commonly donated amount), and then multiply that figure by 10 (the number you need to multiply the 3% positive response rate by to achieve 30% of total funding from this source). The formula looks like this:

(funding goal/$25) x 10 = target number of personal contacts

For example, if your funding goal is $1000, you should aim to send personal messages to 400 contacts, as shown below:

($1000/$25) x 10 = 400

400 personal messages x 3% positive response rate = 12 donations
12 donations x $25 each = $300 (i.e., 30% of $1000 goal)

4. Take advantage of the first few days of the campaign.

Statistics from other crowdfunding sites show that raising 30% of your funding goal in the first week of a campaign translates to an 80% chance of meeting your goal. If you raise just 5% of your goal in the first week, though, the likelihood of meeting your goal drops to 50%.

Another reason the first few days of a campaign are important is that projects are displayed on the HawksNest homepage in first-in/first-out order. That means the last project to be approved is the first project displayed. Therefore, the visibility of your project is greatest in the first few days of your campaign, before new projects push it farther down on the page. This is especially important for capturing the attention of visitors who are casually browsing HawksNest. You might consider sending your emails, Facebook private messages, and Twitter direct messages on Day 2 or Day 3 of the campaign, to boost donations after your project becomes less visible on the HawksNest homepage. (Projects can always be found using keywords or category search — so make sure to choose those well!)

5. Continue to promote your project for the duration of the campaign.

Crowdfunding is not a wind-it-up-and-let-it-go sort of thing. It requires constant engagement from project owners. This is all the more true for HawksNest, which doesn’t have as much traffic as, say, Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Post often to social media and your campaign page and send follow-up emails. Consider doing an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit or sending press releases to local media (see #1 above about geographically specific cultural projects) — anything to both let people know about your campaign and keep it front-of-mind.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Crowdfunding Scrabble photo by LendingMemo.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Crowd photo by Scott Kissell, University Communications & Marketing, Miami University.

Red-tailed hawk in flight.

New HawksNest crowdfunding platform is accepting project submissions

Screenshot of HawksNest. Navigation menu text: HawksNest. Discover. About Us. Terms of Use. Sign Up. Log in. Banner text: HawksNest is a platform to hatch new ideas. Support the research of Miami University students, faculty, and staff.
Through the HawksNest platform, alumni, family, and friends can directly support the research, scholarship, and service projects of Miami University students, faculty, and staff.

We first wrote about crowdfunding in January 2015, when we told you about an Experiment.com campaign launched by Andor Kiss, supervisor of Miami University’s Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics.

As Associate Provost for Research Jim Oris mentioned in a post offering his perspective on FY2015 extramural funding, Kiss’s success with crowdfunding helped inspire the development of a crowdfunding platform specifically designed to engage alumni, family, and friends of Miami University.

Together with University Advancement, we are pleased to announce that that platform — called HawksNest — is now operational.

Through HawksNest, alumni, family, and friends can directly support the research, scholarship, and service projects of Miami University students, faculty, and staff.

This is how HawksNest works.

  • Any Miami University student, faculty, or staff member may complete an online application to have a project considered for funding.
  • An internal review team assesses applications and posts approved projects on HawksNest for a maximum of 45 days.
  • Potential donors visit the site to learn about and pledge funds to approved projects.
  • Once a funding goal has been met, the project can begin!
  • Project managers use the site to keep donors up-to-date with information on the project’s progress.

We need projects from Miami faculty, staff, and students!

We have a website. We have policies and procedures. But to launch the site officially, we need student-centered projects for donors to fund! We encourage Miami faculty, staff, and students with great ideas that could be implemented for under $6000 to create a HawksNest account and submit the project for review today.

Want to know more before you commit?

Check out our FAQs and project review criteria. And — since crowdfunding is successful only when project managers actively promote their projects — also be sure to check out these tips for using social media to promote your campaign.

Ready to get started? Visit HawksNest.MiamiOH.edu now.


Red-tailed hawk photo by Rick Bohn of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Moutain-Prairie via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Giant model of the DNA double helix at a science museum in Ann Arbor. The helixes sides are pearlescent white tubes that twist in toward the center of the frame from the middle left. The "rungs" between the sides are red, blue, green and brown tubes connected by slimmer copper-colored tubes.

Scientist turns to crowd to fund research

Image is a screenshot of a webpage on experiment.com. At the top of the image is the "experiment" logo, a search box, and three links: "Discover," "How It Works," and "Sign up or Login." In the center of the image is a picture of a frozen North American wood frog. Laid over the picture of the wood frog is a screened dark grey box with the words, "Unlock the Secrets of Animals that Survive Freezing! Andor Kiss Miami University." Next to that box is another, white box that shows the progress of the project's funding. "$3,031 Pledged" appears in large type at the top of the box. Underneath that, a green bar stretches from margin to margin. Below the green bar are the following words: "101% Funded $3,000 Goal 0 Days." A smaller grey box appears below the funding "thermometer." The text in it reads, "Success! This project was funded on: 8 November 2014." Below the picture of the frog are navigation links: "Overview," "Abstract" (this is the one highlighted), "Lab Notes (12)," and "Comments (20)." Below that are three columns of text. The heading on the first column is, "What is the context of this research?" Below that heading is the following text: "The North American wood frog is an animal that has adopted a strategy of overwintering by burrowing to the leaf litter and other forest floor material and freezing. The frog can do this by flooding its blood with glucose and urea and other small molecules. The glucose acts in a similar manner to antifreeze, and the urea." The remaining text is cut off. The heading on the second column is: "What is the significance of this project?" Below that heading is the following text: "The wood frog is an example of a vertebrate animal who can undergo freezing and survive. One of the biggest problems with human organ transplants are the incompatibility and unavailability of the correct organ to correct recipient within a critical time frame. If we could freeze and/or chill preserve organs, we could save." The remaining text in this column is cut off. The third column heading is: "What are the goals of the project?" Below that heading is the following text: "I have wood frog tissue and the all the necessary skills and equipment to isolate, sequence, assemble and annotate the wood frog genome. If funded, I will: (1) Isolate the genomic DNA of the North American wood frog." No more text in that column is visible.
Miami University adjunct assistant professor and supervisor of the Center for Bioinformatics & Functional Genomics, Dr. Andor Kiss, received the funding he needed to sequence the genome of the North American wood frog on the crowdfunding site experiment.com

Once the domain of musicians, filmmakers, and tech innovators, crowdfunding is beginning to capture the attention of scientific researchers like Andor Kiss, adjunct assistant professor and supervisor in Miami University’s Center for Bioinformatics & Functional Genomics (CBFG).

When Kiss needed a relatively small amount of money – $3,000 – to purchase some genome sequencing technology, he knew he’d have to think outside the box of federal funding because most of those agencies are limited in their ability to fund a project with such a small budget.

The genome Kiss wants to sequence is that of the North American wood frog (Rana sylvatica). He and other Miami researchers are interested in this organism because of its ability to freeze in winter, and then resume normal function after thawing in the spring.

“Very few vertebrates have the capacity to freeze and survive,” Kiss says.

Past media coverage of Miami researchers’ work on the wood frog (including this post and this episode of PBS’s science program, NOVA), reflected public fascination with the amphibian’s seeming superpower, and that’s what Kiss banked on for funding his genome-sequencing project

“I thought, ‘Well, because of the inherently attractive nature of this particular organism in capturing the public’s imagination, maybe I could crowdfund this and get a significant chunk of people who are interested in science to do this,’” Kiss recalls.

In the end, 41 backers donated a total of $3,031 – 101% of the goal – to Kiss’s project through Experiment, a site that Bill Gates has said “helps close the gap for potential and promising, but unfunded projects.”

The victory was hard-won.

“You have to work at it,” Kiss says of this kind of crowdfunding. “You have to tweet about, it. You have to do an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit. You have to really work the Internet hard, because a lot of people are not going to find it on their own. You have to contact colleagues, go to meetings, talk to people who are interested.”

The donated funds, coupled with a discount from the manufacturer, have allowed Kiss to purchase an Illumina Tru-Seq Synthetic Long-Read DNA Kit.

With this kit, Kiss hopes to answer two questions about Rana sylvatica:

  • Does this frog have the same genes every other frog has, but expresses them in a unique way?
  • Are there certain genes unique to this frog?

But even if he doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for, Kiss says his crowdfunders’ investment won’t be wasted.

“I would be extremely surprised if we didn’t find novel and unexpected things with the assembly of this wood frog genome,” he says. “But let’s just assume that’s the worst case scenario: we don’t find anything about the wood frog per se. At least we have developed a technology here at the CBFG that we can apply to other projects. Gaining this technical capability is a very good, valuable goal.”

Just the same, it’s the very uncertainty of a project that can make it an ideal candidate for crowdfunding. For some investors, the prospect of funding a project that could one day lead to a major discovery or innovation is thrilling, and since the stakes are usually small – the average donation to Kiss’s project was about $74 – not much is lost if the project hits a dead end.

That’s good news for scientists like Kiss, who can find it difficult to get projects that are risky or exploratory through the peer review process at government funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Miami University’s Associate Provost for Research & Scholarship, Jim Oris, anticipates crowdfunding will play an increasingly important role for scientists, innovators, and creators at universities.

“Social media has broken down and worked around hierarchies in many industries, removing gatekeepers and letting many more voices through,” Oris says. “Crowdfunding has the potential to do the same for research and creative activity at universities.”

To facilitate grassroots investment at Miami, Oris is leading the development of a homegrown crowdfunding platform. The yet-to-be-named system will allow Miami students, faculty, and staff to register projects and set a funding goal.

“We’re still very much in the beginning stages of developing the system, and there are many details to be worked out,” Oris says. “But the goal is to engage Miami alumni, family, and friends from around the world by offering them an opportunity to have a meaningful and measureable impact on work happening at Miami today.”

Kiss agrees that the measurability inherent in crowdfunding campaigns – fundraising “thermometers” are a hallmark of virtually every platform – is part of their appeal.

“People like to donate to a specific target,” he says. “They like being able to point to something concrete and say, ‘I contributed to that.’ And if the goal is to raise $2,500, there’s no question that a $100 donation will make a difference.”

Today, investors in Kiss’s wood frog genome project can point to equipment in the CBFG and say, “I contributed to that.” But Kiss hopes one day they’ll be able to point to more.

“Nature has already solved a lot of the problems. We just have to figure out how nature did it. Once we’ve sequenced the genome of the wood frog, we may eventually be able to read nature’s instructions to improve organ transplants and other medical treatments.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

DNA model image by Alfred Hermida, via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.