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


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.


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.


  • $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.


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


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.

Papers are laid out across a table. A pen sits on one stack of paper. The paper in the center of the frame has handwritten annotations and highlighting. A Macbook is visible in the background.

OARS & ORU offer training and other events this fall

35 different colored squares are arranged in a calendar grid. 31 of the squares are labeled with the numbers 1 through 31, representing days of the month.

This fall, OARS and the Office of Research for Undergraduate (ORU) are pleased to offer training and other events designed to contribute to the success of Miami’s researchers, scholars, and creative artists. Details are available below.

eSPA training

All Miami faculty – regardless of discipline or target agency – who submit proposals for external funding must now use eSPA for internal proposal routing and approval.

We strongly encourage any researcher/scholar who has not already attended eSPA training to participate in one of the following sessions (click on the date to register):

  • Wednesday, September 16, 10:00-11:30am in the B.E.S.T. Library instructional space (116 Laws Hall)
  • Thursday, September 24, 3:00-4:30pm in the B.E.S.T. Library instructional space (116 Laws Hall)

Each 90-minute training session provides an overview of the online system and walks through the steps involved in creating a proposal record, building a proposal, routing a proposal for approvals, and monitoring proposal and award activity.

SPIN training

As of August 1, 2015, InfoEd’s SPIN Global Suite replaces ProQuest’s Pivot as Miami’s source of information about funding opportunities.

OARS will offer two workshops in September designed to introduce researchers and scholars to SPIN and to help them learn to navigate this system. Click on one of the following dates to register.

  • Wednesday, September 9, 3:00-4:00pm in the B.E.S.T. Library instructional space (116 Laws Hall)
  • Tuesday, September 15, 9:00-10:00am in the B.E.S.T. Library instructional space (116 Laws Hall)

ORU open house

On Wednesday, September 2, from 10:30am to 2:00pm, the Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU) will hold an open house in its Advanced Instructional Space (AIS) on the first floor of King Library. The open house provides both students and faculty an opportunity to learn more about ORU programming and funding opportunities. Students representing various programs and awards will be on hand to answer any questions and provide their perspective. For those who want to get involved in research but may be unsure how to get started, this is the perfect place to be! No registration is required.


NSF IBSS networking

To encourage the formation of interdisciplinary teams to submit proposals to the NSF’s Interdisciplinary Behavioral & Social Science (IBSS) program, OARS will host a networking event from noon to 1:00pm on Monday, September 14 in 104 Roudebush Hall. To attend this event, please register by Thursday, September 10.

Proposal writing workshop

This 6-week, hands-on workshop assists participants in developing a proposal for submission to an external funding agency.  The workshop is designed to:

  • Help participants identify external funding sources
  • Assist step-by-step with proposal development
  • Integrate peer review in the proposal development process
  • Familiarize participants with internal resources for funding, statistics, evaluation, and compliance
  • Introduce participants to institutional grant-writing and research-related resources
  • Educate participants on procedures and policies for institutional routing and submission of grant proposals to external sponsors

This workshop is appropriate for full-time faculty and staff who:

  • Are new to external funding
  • Value peer review
  • Desire set-aside time for proposal writing, development, and peer feedback
  • Have project goals and objectives already in mind

New participants who complete the workshop and submit a proposal for external funding within a year after the 6-week workshop are eligible to receive $500 in operating costs to support their research, educational, and creative endeavors.  Please note that only full-time, permanent employees are eligible for the $500 incentive.

Workshop participants should be able to meet weekly on the Oxford campus for a 1.5 hour working session (dates & times to be determined by participants’ schedules).  Attendance is necessary to ensure a successful experience for all participants. Therefore, those who miss more than one session will not be eligible for the $500 in incentive funds.

If you are interested and can make the time commitment, please complete this availability survey so that OARS may select a time to accommodate a majority of schedules.

Calendar image by Philip via Flickr. Research proposal notes image by Catherine Cronin via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

A brick and stone building surrounds three sides of a snow-covered courtyard. In the center of the courtyard is a bronze-like bust on a concrete pedestal. The bust depicts a man reading a book. The courtyard also contains benches, shrubs, and a walking path.

CEHS sponsors J-term workshop

Dark grey line drawing on a green background depicts a brain being injected by a syringe.

Miami’s College of Education, Health, & Society (CEHS) recently sponsored a professional development workshop for faculty. Titled “Winning Approaches for IES,” the workshop was facilitated by Burr Zimmerman and Dave Brownstein of Urban Ventures Group, Ltd. (UVG), and was attended by 12 faculty from CEHS and two faculty from the College of Arts & Science.

IES, or the Institute of Education Sciences, is a division of the U.S. Department of Education that funds education research, and is a frequent target for CEHS faculty research proposals. The workshop began with an overview of IES and the research it funds, during which the facilitators emphasized the following:

  • Because IES is very sensitive to the return (i.e., publications) on their research investment, they prefer to fund applicants with a strong research track record and/or publication history. The agency tends to place more emphasis on the researcher than on the research project. Therefore, Zimmerman suggests that prospective applicants without strong research or publication records of their own might increase their likelihood of funding by partnering with a “known” researcher.
  • IES is looking for rigorous, hypothesis-driven research, including fundamental studies that identify the factors that govern education outcomes, developing or improving interventions, assessing existing interventions in specific contexts, or broadly measuring the effectiveness of interventions.
  • IES prefers projects that center on malleable factors under the control of – and able to be changed by – the educational system, including:
    • Student behavior and skills;
    • Teacher practices and credentials;
    • School size, climate, and organization;
    • Educational interventions in practice, curriculum, instructional approach, program, and policy.

Much of Zimmerman and Brownstein’s advice – including recommendations about contacting a program officer prior to submission, carefully reading program guidelines, and tailoring a proposal to a specific funding opportunity – was applicable to anyone seeking grant funding, not just those applying to IES.

In the last hour of the workshop, participants formed small groups to develop research ideas or do hands-on reviews of drafts of proposal sections.

The following Miami resources are relevant to points raised during the workshop:

  • OARS’ Pinterest boards are valuable resource guides for researchers and scholars. Of particular interest to workshop participants – many of whom target NIH funding opportunities in addition to or instead of IES – is the “NIH Resources” board, which includes a link to some full proposals for funded projects.
  • Pivot not only helps Miami’s researchers find funding opportunities, it can also help them locate potential collaborators – those “known” researchers Zimmerman and Brownstein say IES is looking for. For the best results, be sure to create an account and claim your profile. (Pivot is a subscription-based service available to Miami faculty, staff, and students while on campus or connected to Miami’s VPN.)
  • Boilerplate descriptions of Miami and its institutional resources can be copied from the OARS website and tailored to fit a specific funding opportunity
  • Data management plans can be developed using the data management tool provided by University Libraries. Numeric/Spatial Librarian Eric Johnson, in the Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship, is also available for consultation.
  • Neal Sullivan and Jennifer Sutton in Research Compliance can answer questions about human subjects research and the IRB.

McGuffey Hall image my Miami University Photo Services.  Brain injection image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Workshop targets NSF broader impacts

Concentric circles in water show the ripple effect.

Creativity is the key to a broader impacts statement that makes an NSF proposal stand out from the crowd, says Joyce Fernandes, professor of biology at Miami University and a former program officer with the NSF.

Fernandes, who led an October 14 workshop on NSF broader impacts statements hosted by OARS, also says it’s not enough to talk about teaching and mentoring undergraduate students because those are things most applicants do. “You have to think outside the box to leverage the proposed research to include ‘value-added’ activities,” she says.

Becoming familiar with the details of the NSF broader impacts review criterion is an obvious starting point for researchers seeking to strengthen their proposals. These details reveal the NSF’s focus on three areas: research, education, and the public. Therefore, says Fernandes, the broader impacts section of a proposal generally includes discussion of the following:

  • Impacts on the broad research field
  • Integration of educational activities with the proposed research
  • Public outreach

Demonstrating an impact in at least two these three areas of NSF emphasis is desireable, Fernandes says, because it demonstrates accountability in the use of taxpayer dollars.

To provide evidence of past success in broader impacts activities, Fernandes says researchers must figure out how to quantify their accomplishments. One suggestion she offered is for researchers to document their students’ publications and conference presentations to illustrate the impact their mentorship has had on students.

Other suggestions include discussing the interdisciplinarity or diversity of the research team (when relevant) and explaining how unique aspects of a particular academic environment will be leveraged.

Fernandes made this last point in response to a workshop participant’s question about how to address the participation of postdoctoral researchers at Miami, an institution where such positions are not common. “Show how that’s a positive,” Fernandes advised. “Miami may be a non-traditional choice for a postdoc, but we do offer experiences and interactions a young researcher wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Another strategy Fernandes suggests is to explain how an individual lab’s work is integrated with the work going on within the larger community – the department, the institution, and the region. Demonstrating how broader impacts activities are aligned with institutional and regional goals shows that the work is culturally ingrained, and also helps speak to the issue of sustainability.

Examples of broader impacts activities discussed at the workshop include K-12 outreach in the form of teacher training and participation in the development of curriculum modules, post-doctoral mentoring, data analysis in classes, partnerships with HBCUs, and institutional summer programs. She said games and trading cards that get students excited about learning science are among the most engaging broader impacts deliverables she’s seen included in NSF-funded projects.

Fernandes also pointed out some broader impacts often overlooked by researchers, including fostering interdisciplinarity, visualizing data, and contributing to workforce development.

While broader impacts are very important in NSF proposals, Fernandes cautions researchers not to focus on them at the expense of the research’s intellectual merit. “A proposal will not fare well if it has excellent intellectual merit, but a minimal discussion of broader impacts,” she says. “But the reverse is also true. A proposal with excellent broader impacts must have a solid and sound research plan to be competitive.”

Intellectual merit and broader impacts must also be well-integrated. “You can’t divorce broader impacts from your research goals,” Fernandes says. A workshop participant with experience as a proposal reviewer seconded this advice, saying that doing that is “a proposal killer.” In that same vein, Fernandes says it’s also important to be cognizant of how budget allocations support broader impacts.

Upcoming workshops led by Joyce Fernandes:

  • November 4
    “Funding opportunities for STEM education”
    RSVP here.
  • November 11
    “NSF resubmission: how to decipher the panel summary”
    RSVP here.
  • November 18
    “Communicating with the NSF program officer: how, why, do’s and don’ts”
    RSVP here.

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

Water drop image by Harold de Smet via Flickr. Ripple image by Roger McLassus (improved by DemonDeLuxe) via Wikimedia Commons.  Both used under Creative Commons license.