Secrets of success: how one SciFunder hit her target in three days

Secrets of success: how one SciFunder hit her target in three days

 Jai Ranganathan


One of the key components of the #SciFund Challenge is that we all learn from each other’s successes. The second round of #SciFund is just a week old, but we already have some big success stories. One of those stories comes to us from SciFunder Ning Jiang and her project Save Lives, One Filter at a Time. Incredibly, Ning hit her #SciFund target of two thousand dollars in under three days! Ning is a doctoral student, working on environmental microbiology issues at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I interviewed her recently to learn the secrets of her success so that we all can learn from what she did.

Prior to this round of #SciFund, Ning didn’t have much outreach experience – she certainly had never put a video together before. But Ning realized the importance of the short video for crowdfunding success. She spent one evening putting a draft version of her video together, using the programs iMovie and Adobe Premiere. She then spent the next five evenings in a continuous loop of asking friends for feedback and making modifications to her video. She particularly solicited feedback from friends who were not in her field. Due to these rounds of review and revision, Ning’s video quickly improved by leaps and bounds.

Here are some of the key points of video advice that Ning received that would be useful to all SciFunders.

1. Make concrete what contributions will do. In Ning’s case, she explicitly made the connection that money towards her research could save people’s lives.

2. Shorten the video, if you can.

3. Avoid jargon. Generally speaking, people well outside of your discipline are best suited to alerting you about jargon.

4. Make a personal connection with the audience. A great way to make this connection is to show your face, for at least part of the video.

5. Reduce the amount of text in the video. Ning’s video originally had a lot of text displayed over photographs, but this text was quickly (and painfully) whittled away in response to feedback.

6. Improve the quality of the audio. Few things are more annoying in a video than lousy audio. From my own perspective (this is Jai speaking here), even a slight upgrade in microphones can make a giant impact on sound quality. But even more important than microphones is a quiet recording space (again Jai speaking here). The human brain is extremely good at canceling out background noises, so you may not even be completely aware of how noisy a space actually is. But a lot of background noise is the fastest way to ruin a recording. Some all too common sources of background noise are room ventilation, running equipment like computers and refrigerators, and wind. An old radio trick for great-sounding audio is to to record audio in a closet or underneath a blanket (this of course only works if you are not recording video at the same time).

Written portion of campaign
Ning also went through a similar process of review and revision with the written portion of her crowdfunding campaign. Much of the video advice above (such as avoiding jargon) definitely still applies here. Despite all of the revisions, Ning still felt that her text was too long, but she made it easier on the eye with the use of titles and bullet points that break up the text.

Ning focussed on coming up with rewards that had a personal touch, but still were inexpensive to produce. In her research program, Ning has partnered with Safe Water International. One person associated with this NGO volunteered to make jewelry as a reward at higher contribution levels to Ning’s project.

Getting the word out
A key aspect of Ning’s success is that she was able to get her message out beyond the circle of people that she personally knew. Roughly half of her contributors are unknown to her, including her three biggest contributors. There are three components to her success in getting the word out.
1. Her research partner, Safe Water International, pushed word of her project out through its own networks of people.

2. Ning asked her own circles of people to post her project video on their own Facebook and Twitter feeds. This approach really succeeded as her biggest contributor became aware of Ning’s project just through a friend’s Twitter feed.

3. She pushed her project on the website Reddit, specifically on two subReddits most applicable to her project: Reddit Water and Reddit Nonprofit. A great deal of interest in her project was generated from these two subReddits.