Crowdfunding offers promise for women and junior academics

Study’s authors suggest women are better able to communicate the value of science to score public donations

January 22, 2019
Source: Alamy

Female and junior academics, who can struggle to win funding through traditional, competitive funding schemes, might want to consider using crowdfunding platforms, on which they benefit most from public donations, a study suggests.

Over the past decade, web-based platforms such as GoFundMe.com – which is used to support entrepreneurs and charity endeavours – have grown in popularity, and scientists have also clocked on to the benefits of online, public endorsement.

The concept is simple: website users can read about an individual’s project and decide whether to donate towards a funding goal set by the project host. The money goes directly to the scientists, but the effort is all or nothing – a project must hit its full funding target or no donations are taken.

Analysing more than 700 campaigns posted on Experiment.com – the largest platform dedicated to crowdfunding science to date – researchers were able to determine the user patterns and success rates for donations earned.

A resulting paper, published in Plos One, found that while 57 per cent of all campaign creators on the site were male, women secured project funding at a significantly higher rate, 57 per cent, compared with 43 per cent for men.

Henry Sauermann, professor of strategy at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin and co-author of the study, said he suspected that women were more proactive in their communication and promotion of the campaigns online. Given the existing evidence showing that men on traditional grant panels tend to prefer to fund male over female researchers, Professor Sauermann said that it was possible that women felt more open to experimenting with new media or had been “pushed to do it after feeling excluded from those traditional networks”.

Students and junior academics also tended to receive a higher volume of pledges than senior scientists, with a success rate of 61 per cent, compared with 33 per cent for associate and full professors.

While it was true that projects that resonated more with the general public performed better – “research relating to animals and diseases, for example” – Professor Sauermann said that there was “not necessarily a disadvantage for those plugging work seen to be more niche, so long as they can communicate the values of their work accordingly”.

“Even though the amounts of money being gathered are not big, I think the potential learning element here is significant in that it’s an exercise in how to communicate the public value of your work,” said Professor Sauermann.

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Bingo! Women clean up in online funding

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