The Process of Science Crowdfunding in one Picture

After all of the R1 analysis, Dr. Zen created a wonderful infographic summarizing our results of how we thought science crowdfunding worked.

Now that we’ve moved forward with our R2 and R3 analysis that bring effort to the table, and slightly modify the story, he has again graced us with a truly awesome infographic to sum up the whole shebang (with some slightly refined numbers)!

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 4.36.58 PM


AAAS Webiner on Science Crowdfunding

Last week, Ethan Perlstein, Erica Hermsen, and I were part of a webinar from AAAS Member Central. It was an interesting peak into what the three of us thought of this new opportunity as well as a venue for a discussion for some important issues. Check it out below!



Offering Personal Rewards

Hi everyone! There are a lot of great proposals shaping up on the wiki for Round 3. With my project being one of the larger projects proposed, and some of my network being outside the US (I had one parent of an autistic child from Scotland express interest in my project when I talked about it on Twitter), I’ve had to be very careful in my design of rewards for the project. I thought I’d share my project reward research with all of you!

A lot of the proposals on the wiki either don’t include the rewards yet, or include rewards that eat up a significant chunk of the project’s funding goals. In thinking about your funding goals, you should make sure that you include the costs of the rewards and the $8% that Rockethub takes (12% if you don’t reach your project goal total). Since the research donations through Rockethub aren’t tax deductible, the rewards are really what entice people to spend more than they might otherwise donate to your project. Someone who doesn’t know you may be willing to donate $10 because of your well written proposal, but may instead give you $100 for a really cool reward tier. Conversely, if you make two reward tiers that are very similar, it is likely that people would just donate at the lower tier that provides an equivalent reward to them. We want to up-sell people as much as possible and make the larger rewards more enticing to meet and exceed our project goals. So, spending time thinking about your rewards (and getting peer feedback on the reward structure) can be just as important as the rest of the project’s proposal.

Rewards can range from $1 to $1,000 or more. The most important reward tiers are at $25 and $50, as this ends up being the most popular funding range for Scifund projects (the most commonly donated reward tier is the $25.00 tier across projects). Looking at other Scifund projects on Rockethub was the best source for me to see what rewards people actually spent money on.

You need to keep in mind the cost of producing and mailing rewards by physical mail. Also, since Rockethub doesn’t collect mailing addresses, you have to e-mail each person who donated to your project to get their physical mailing address to send physical rewards. I suggest against sending anything requiring you to spend more than $1 in production and shipping at or below your $25.00 mark, especially if you are going for a larger end-goal and will have a lot of contributors. You also need to keep in mind that you may end up having to pay expensive shipping for larger items (t-shirts, mugs, pictures, etc). It is possible to add text to the reward description limiting locations of where you can mail the items if you need to avoid international shipping. Frames for pictures are particularly expensive to buy and ship, so if you mail pictures, I recommend against including a frame. If you are planning to mail rewards to people, make sure you factor these shipping costs into your reward structure. If you plan on limiting some rewards to people living in a certain location, make sure you include other tiers that have e-mailed rewards that still allow people to donate.

If you offer a reward below $25.00, this should always be electronic (thank you e-mails, shoutouts on public media sites, and other things you can e-mail) and should probably be things that aren’t super time-consuming for you to do. Other rewards above that tier can also be electronic if they are meaningful to the people who want to fund your research (so, I am planning to e-mail artwork or offer Skype meetings with people at some reward tiers).

Rewards around $25 and above can include a lot of different things that are related to your project. In the past, people have e-mailed pictures of the organism/animal/whatever they were researching (or in my case, pictures of the brain!). You can also include project newsletters or updates about your research progress. Post-cards mailed to people seem to be really common at this tier, as they are relatively inexpensive to have personalized and mailed.

A $50.00 reward is also important and allows you to offer bigger deliverable rewards that will be more rare than the $25.00 tier. (So, Siouxsie Wiles had 27 people donate $50.00 each as her most common reward because she offered: “As before PLUS your name in lights! We will use our bioluminescent bacteria to ‘draw’ your name and send you a picture of the glowing result.”). In my case, we’re having one of the grad students in the lab (an artist in her spare time) paint a picture of the brain that we can scan and e-mail to people (and send hard-copies to people living in the USA where shipping is reasonable for us). The $50.00 reward tiers and above make the best tier for things that you mail to people that are larger than a postcard, but have fairly low shipping costs.

Any rewards at the $100 to $1,000 range need to be really awesome and really personal things, but they don’t have to come at great financial cost to you! So, one of the reward tiers I’m offering to my video game community fans is the ability to join me on my podcast as a guest co-host for an episode. I also have a tier where I’ll do a Skype meeting and talk about my autism research with people who aren’t as interested in video games. I’m also thinking of letting people name the characters in the new intervention project we are building at around the $500 tier. All of these rewards are essentially free for me (other than an investment of my time), but have a chance of being really rewarding to people in my larger network.

Note: Kelly Weinersmith suggested making sure you send e-mail rewards by BCC and not CC when you send e-mailed rewards, so that the donors can’t see each others’ e-mail addresses.

Frederic Baud also added another reason to keep the cost of your rewards low. If your physical rewards cost more than 25% of the donation value, they could be subject to sales taxes!  So, he stressed the importance of having rewards that are high on intellectual value, rather than monetary value.


Writing Your Script

When planning out your crowdfunding video, the first thing to consider is your script – an outline of everything you want to say in the video.  Rather than turning on the camera and making it up as you go along, spend some time thinking about how to present your topic as effectively and concisely as possible.   Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Start Strong

People have notoriously short attention spans when watching something online, and often they will determine whether or not they want to watch something within the first few seconds. Therefore it is extremely important to capture the audience’s attention as quickly as possible.  Think about how you can accomplish this in your script.  Possibilities might include starting off with an interesting fact, a question someone might be curious about, or even a relevant joke.


Your video should give the viewer a basic understanding of the science behind your pitch without overburdening them with too many details.  Think in broad concepts that anyone can understand, and be careful about using too much scientific jargon.

Think Big

Always keep in mind the big picture.  Viewers want to know how your project is relevant to the world at large.  Tie it in to something they can relate to and understand.

Time Yourself

After your script is finished, time yourself reading it at a comfortable pace.  This will give you an idea of how much you need to cut out or add in.   Shoot for somewhere between 2 and 3 minutes.

Read It Out Loud

Once your script is written, read it through a few times out loud.  It can also be helpful to record yourself and listen back to it.  Pay attention to anything that comes out awkwardly – a great sentence on paper doesn’t always read as well out loud.  Rework the trouble spots, and make sure your script is clear before you start shooting.



Welcome to the Lost Nomad Media Film School!

Lost Nomad Media is a  professional video production company based in Los Angeles that specializes in creating outreach documentaries for scientists and researchers.  Throughout the course we will be providing video production tips to help you create compelling, professional-quality videos for your campaigns.

If at any time you have any video-related questions, feel free to e-mail me and one of us will try to get back to you as quickly as possible.

-Greg Monson

Head of Production


Listening to gamers

There are lots of people thinking about how to succeed at crowdfunding lately. The games industry has been paying close attention to crowdfunding since the breakout success of a few projects, like Doublefine. Here’s a few choice lessons from game makers on crowdfunding success…


Six mistakes that can kill a crowdfunding campaign

Yes, this is just a gratuitous link to Mashable, but, I found their 6 mistakes that can kill a crowdfunding campaign to all ring true to the lessons learned in #SciFund rounds 1 and 2. Here they are for reference, and with a bit of light commentary to adapt them to science crowdfunding campaigns in perticular.

1. Nobody Knows Who You Are (aka, build an audience before you even start crowdfunding)

2. No One Can Tell What You’re Talking About (scientist, de-jargonify thyself!)

3. Nothing Sets You Apart From the Competition (why does your science matter, beyond just for the sake of doing science?)

4. You Fail to Ignite, Engage, or Connect (make an engaging video! have unique rewards! do something to catch people’s attention!)

5. You Don’t Maintain Contact with Supporters and Backers (keep contact with them through the WHOLE campaign – and after, if you ever want to use crowdfunding again.)

6. You’re Greedy or Clueless About Fundraising Goals (make it clear where the funds will be used – don’t be nebulous or say something like ‘for general salary/tuition’)


Creative Commons: the way to avoid copyright infringement in your #SciFund video

Jai Ranganathan

creative commonsCan you use copyrighted material, such as copyrighted songs or pictures, in your #SciFund video? The question of what is allowable use of copyrighted material is quite complex legally. Accordingly, it is left to the discretion of individual SciFunders whether they use copyrighted material in their campaign or not.

One way to be sure that you are in the clear is to only use materials that you created yourself, got permission to use from the owner, or is Creative Commons licensed. To focus on the last one, there is a giant amount of Creative Commons content out there. You are free and clear to download all of it and to use it in your own work.

Great clearinghouse sites that I regularly use to find Creative Commons-licensed stuff:
Music: ccMixter (awesome search feature here)
Sound effects: Freesound
Images: Wikimedia Commons (there is also audio and video here, but images are the star of the show here)
Images: Creative Commons on Flickr

There is a bit of a caveat that I should mention, which is that there are different kinds of Creative Commons licenses. Each license type varies a bit in terms of what it allows you to do. In general though, the whole point of a Creative Commons license is to encourage the use and modification of the content that is under that license.


How do you get people to contribute to your crowdfunding project?

Jai Ranganathan

safe cracking

Does this woman know how to break into the crowdfunding safe of cash?

As we count down the days to the May First launch of the second round of the #SciFund Challenge, let’s talk about what it takes to get people to actually contribute to your crowdfunding campaign. The first round of #SciFund makes clear that there are two parts to the answer: a compelling crowdfunding page and a strategy to get people to take a look at that page.

A compelling crowdfunding page
1. Above all else, the video, text, and pictures that make up your page must answer the following question: “so what?”. If your research gets funded and you carry it out, why is that meaningful to a potential contributor? There isn’t just one right answer to the question, of course, but please be sure that an answer is in there.

2. Provide desirable rewards across a range of price points. In the first round of #SciFund, contributions to projects ranged from one dollar to well over a thousand dollars. You want to capture as much of that range as possible, by providing rewards across a wide range of dollar values. The median contribution to first round projects was twenty-five dollars, so a reward at something around that level for your own project is recommended. You can check out the full analysis of the contributions to the first round of #SciFund on an earlier blog post. On a related note, definitely do be creative in your rewards, but stay away from raffles (if you give X dollars, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win Y prize), as they are illegal in this context.

A strategy to get people to take a look at your crowdfunding page
1. The majority of the people taking at look at a particular #SciFund scientist’s project on RocketHub will get there due to the efforts of that scientist. There were several fantastic projects in the first round of #SciFund that got very little traction, because the creators of those projects made little to no effort to get the word out. On the flip side, essentially every first round #SciFund scientist who made efforts to get the word out about their project was rewarded for doing so.

2. How do you get people to take a look at your project page? RocketHub has some great advice. There is more great promotion advice on the SciFund Challenge blog from Zach and Kelly Weinersmith, who raised $75,000 in their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.

3. In the first round of #SciFund, there were multiple strategies that worked for getting the word out. Here are three different and successful strategies used by round one #SciFund scientists: Kristina KillgroveLindsey Peavey, and Kelly Weinersmith.

4. Let’s be honest: asking people you know for cash is hard. However, what would be even more useful (and easier) is to ask your contacts to spread the word of your project to their own circles. In fact, having circles of people talking up your project with ever increasing numbers of circles is a really powerful communication strategy.

5. On that note, one important part of your promotion strategy should be to persuade influencers that you know to help you to spread the word. Who are influencers? People strongly connected to networks of other people. Obvious examples of influencers would be people with high-traffic blogs and lots of Twitter followers. As an example of the impact these kind of influencers can have, site traffic to the #SciFund Challenge blog quadrupled when Zach Weinersmith wrote two sentences about it on his website Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (which gets ten million page views a week).

There are plenty of influencers offline too! For example, people involved in charitable, social, or professional organizations can certainly spread the word about your project to their organizations.

You may think that you don’t know any influencers. That is certainly what I thought when we all starting planning the #SciFund Challenge. But it turned out that many of the people I know had unexpected connections to networks of other people. All of these hidden influencers played a big role in spreading the word about the #SciFund Challenge.

6. As a last note of advice on promotion, it is very important that there is an initial burst of donations on your project page in the first few days that it goes live. Potential donors really want to see that others have already bought into your vision, before they open their wallets. How do you get this initial donation burst? Over the next few days, before your project goes live, talk to the circle of people to whom you have the closest connection. Ask them to contribute to your project as soon as it goes live on May 1. They don’t have to contribute a lot. The key thing is to demonstrate that people have bought into your project.

7. Getting media coverage is a really powerful way to spread the word about your project. I’ll be sending word out about this subject tomorrow.


Less is more: setting the right dollar goal for your #SciFund project

Jai Ranganathan

A few #SciFund people have told me that they have not been receiving my e-mails or notifications via the #SciFund e-mail list. If you applied for #SciFund but haven’t heard from me in the past week, please contact me immediately (contact info on About page).

It's no snow job: success in crowfunding is all about momentum.

Okay, on to the topic of this post: how do you figure out the right dollar target for your #SciFund crowdfunding project?

There actually is some thinking involved in getting to the answer. The first step is to talk about fees. The organizers of #SciFund aren’t making a penny off of this, but RocketHub does charge some fees. If you make or exceed your target, RocketHub keeps 8% of what you raise (4% going to credit card fees, 4% going to RocketHub). If you don’t hit your target, RocketHub charges 12% (4% going to credit card fees, 8% going to RocketHub). Additionally, for people not in the US and Canada, there is a bank wiring fee, which is 10-20 dollars, when RocketHub sends your money to you. [Read more...]