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.