Does crowd funding work by Karma or serendipity?

Okay, so this may seem a little esoteric for a scientist (who is an avowed atheist*) to be pondering so early in a crowd funding campaign, but as someone who had not donated to such projects before starting to run one last year, it is something I will be able to assess this time around.

As there is only a small number of Deakin projects this year, I have not had to bankrupt myself supporting all of my colleagues equally and they have all repaid the favour. But it makes me think of all the people who I have given time and advice to on such matters in the last year, after running a successful campaign. Will this ‘service’ to the concept be rewarded? Not that I charge for this service, it is the kind of altruism that is well within my power to deliver with minimal fuss or bother and I enjoy helping people ‘workshop’ their ideas. I then always feel like a proud Nanna (yes, I am almost that old…) when I see other people’s risks to attempt crowd funding in non traditional fields like science succeed. And know that I have played a tiny part in helping them to decide to have a crack at it.

And in the true spirit of crowd sourcing ideas on such things, I hope that some will repay my support, by offering me support in kind. Not to necessarily pledge to my project (although that is always gratifying!) but to share with me the contacts that they may have made in the media or philanthropic circles so that I can add these folks to my strategy to market my campaign in the next 43 days.

As my project is in a non glamorous field of science (Microbiology) I will need to work extra hard to attract attention to the significance of my proposed work. It does not have the intrinsic interest of things like sick kiddies, brains or cancer to the media/philanthropy sectors, so have gone with quirky and humorous (as I find that easiest to pull off personally) and hope that will carry the day. Clearly, last time, the Mighty Maggots inspired morbid fascination and the microbiology of the flesh eating bacteria had a strong local flavour which enabled outreach opportunities. But I was a newbie to Twitter and had yet to cultivate a reputation as a science communicator. This time, I have ten times the followers, mostly real people, a fair proportion who I have interacted with at some point. Many of them are my fellow microbiologist from all over the world.

But from my experiences last time, this kind of ‘singing to the choir’ resulted in only a few contributing to the offertory plate. So far this time, it is looking more encouraging as I have only had 19 pledges so far, a significant proportion from microbiologists of varying stripes. Perhaps due to fact the choir is substantially bigger this year? Perhaps the proportions remain the same? I think I will get some data on that from my good friend, colleague and Twitter valentine, Stu Palmer (@s_palm) for a later post.

But you can be strategic as you like, trying to target specific groups in a control freaky academic fashion, but my previous experience also tells me that the contacts with the biggest donors that get your project over the line come from serendipity. The odd tweet to a public figure here, the business card or two passed on there….(and Warwick Anderson, head of the NHMRC, you still owe me $49 from when I spoke to you during the last campaign…but won’t be the last time someone from the NHMRC fails to give me research cash, more’s the pity)

The donors who mean the most to me are those that pledged far beyond the range that they could comfortably afford. And then supported me consistently through out the campaign. Last time, these folks were rewarded with indoctrination into the cult of the #fluffymaggot . I have been racking my brains to think up something suitable for this time. I sure it will come to me over the coming weeks…and may have something to do with gin…!

*except on past fertility matters, which saw me praying fervently to the moon Goddess during several lunar eclipses….It’s a woman thing….

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