University objections to #SciFund – how do you counter them?

University objections to #SciFund – how do you counter them?

Jai Ranganathan

With the greatest of ease, #SciFund scientists leap over all possible university objections to crowdfunding for science.

The vast majority of scientists participating in the #SciFund Challenge are based at universities (and by the way scientists, sign up here for #SciFund). And for lots of reasons, the #SciFund money raised by those university-based scientists will likely need to be routed through their universities.

To avoid a million headaches, it is really important for #SciFund scientists to clear their crowdfunding campaigns with their local grants administrators before projects launch in May. As crowdfunding for science is so new, many university administrators will be totally unfamiliar with it and might well raise a host of objections.

Fear not though, dear scientists, as we have done a lot of consulting with administrators here at our home campus (University of California, Santa Barbara) and we have answers to many of the most common objections. There are two earlier posts on this subject by the way (here and here).

Objection 1. Our university has no idea how to deal with research money raised by crowdfunding. 

Actually all universities have well-worn systems in place that make it very easy to deal with #SciFund money. In the end, each #SciFund scientist will get a single check from the company (RocketHub) that is hosting our projects, as a no-strings-attached gift with no reporting requirements. Universities know how to deal with gifts. In fact, they usually are trying very hard to get gifts.

To further the point, let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say that a #SciFund scientist met a wealthy person and that person was so excited by the scientist’s research that he or she wrote a big check to support the research program. How many universities would say no to the money? #SciFund cash is conceptually exactly the same.

Objection 2. #SciFund is interfering with our own university’s fundraising campaign.

It isn’t true, but the fear here is that a scientist’s #SciFund crowdfunding campaign is cannibalizing donors who would otherwise be giving to a university’s fundraising appeal. Here’s the thing though. Development staff at universities generally have no access to the people giving to an individual researcher’s#SciFund campaign. The first round of #SciFund made clear that contributions came from people reached through the researchers’ own networks – not from official donor lists produced by university development departments. Additionally, the median donation to #SciFund projects was $25 – do universities really have access to big lists of small-contribution donors?

If anything, #SciFund helps development efforts by bringing in brand new contributors to universities who might then be potentially engaged by development staff.

Objection 3. Any money you raise through #SciFund is income and is subject to personal income tax.

Not necessarily true. #SciFund scientists will each get a single check from RocketHub. A scientist can designate any name  he or she wants on that check. If a scientist designates their own name on the check, then yes, money might well be taxed as income. However, we strongly advise scientists to designate their universities as the recipient of their #SciFund checks. If the money goes directly to the university and never enters a scientist’s bank account, then there are no personal tax implications.

Objection 4. We are going charge the standard overhead on your #SciFund cash, as if it was a National Science Foundation grant.

This should not happen. The critical thing here is that #SciFund money is a no-strings-attached gift, with no reporting requirements. University overhead on gifts is generally much lower (in the 0-8% range generally) then the overhead on grants with reporting requirements (frequently well over 50%).

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