"What happens if I don't reach my funding goal?"

"What happens if I don't reach my funding goal?"

As someone who raised $611 in Round 2 of the SciFund Challenge — about 20% of my $3000 goal — I’m hardly a crowdfunding guru. That said, my mediocre fundraising performance makes me highly qualified to address the question posed in the title of this post!

But first a bit of background.

My interests include educational music about science. Not only is this a tricky area in which to get funding, it’s not even clear which potential funders one should target.

With these uncertainties in mind, I decided to give crowdfunding a shot. Perhaps my 700-plus Facebook friends would all turn out to be closet science music enthusiasts? In any case, I could benefit from the infrastructure of the SciFund Challenge and from Jai and Jarrett’s leadership.

My proposal turned out OK, I guess. The combination of science and music is an intriguing mix, and my video was cute in a super-low-budget kind of way. But I proposed to do a usability study of my website, SingAboutScience.org, and it may have been a mistake to focus on usability. Will normal people be spurred to open their wallets by thoughts of an exquisite navigation bar or a beefed-up FAQ section?

In the end, the proposal attracted $611 in donations — not enough to do the usability study I had envisioned. What were my options? I still needed to put the money toward something like the proposed work — something that my donors would consider a reasonable use of their money. But what?

I didn’t immediately know, so I put this on the proverbial back burner for a while. I discussed usability informally with a few contacts via email; they didn’t have many suggestions for improving the website’s existing features. Meanwhile, a collaboration with a new colleague seemed to be pushing the site in new directions.

Ultimately I decided to improve the site not by refining what was already there (e.g., a searchable song database) but by creating two new sections:
• a lesson plans database analogous to the song database. While still in development, it currently covers about 160 science/music activities from diverse sources, and presents these in a manner accessible to teachers.
• a page for online quizzes associated with specific science music videos. It too is unfinished — I’ll be adding seven additional quizzes in the coming weeks — but the two quizzes currently posted should convey the general idea. (Feel free to try them even if you aren’t in the targeted age groups!)

These sections were created with the help of a part-time student assistant whom I paid with the SciFund Challenge money. The money has run out, but the student has continued to work (now as a volunteer), so the impact of my donors’ dollars is getting amplified in this way.

Thus, while my SciFund Challenge campaign was not a complete success, it was an interesting microcosm of the research process, from attracting sponsorship to getting something done with limited resources. And the setback of raising less money than desired was ultimately useful in making me think extra-carefully about how to spend what I did have.

The take-home messages, as I see them, are these:

1. You are obligated to use your less-than-hoped-for funds for something related to what you originally proposed. You owe your donors that.

2. But you don’t need to spend the money right away! Take some time to re-imagine the project under the new budgetary constraints. Eventually you’ll hit upon something that will make everyone happy.

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  1. As a (minor) donor, I thank you. I’m impressed with your thought process, very much with your results, and even with the fact that you’re sharing the experience here. Also: I understand why some crowdfunding projects are “all or nothing,” where you must reach your goal to get any funding, but I’m glad yours was not!