Crowdfunding: Start-up Funds for Citizen Science

Seeding your citizen science initiatives with a community of doers and funders

.Crowdfunding and citizen science are two sides of the same coin. At their core, both are motivated by a common goal to bring the public closer to the scientific process. As more scientists contemplate introducing citizen science elements into their research, some are also turning to crowdfunding for start-up funds to get these initiatives off the ground.

Scientists who go down this route are savvy, entrepreneurial, and rely on the same science communication skills needed to be successful in citizen science. They see crowdfunding as a natural extension for building their community — expanding it not just from people interested in donating their time, but for those interested in donating funds.

In the examples we’ve seen on, crowdsourced funds are often lightweight, and used to support the mission critical pieces of start-up citizen science initiatives.

The definition of mission critical is flexible, and can vary by project. For some, the funding can be used for building the initial app/website, making a field-kit, procuring analytical resources, etc. By taking a stepwise approach to funding, the momentum and results from earlier efforts is enabling — building the case for subsequent funding, partnerships, and community growth later on.

Drawing from citizen science-themed projects on, we dive deeper into two recent case studies. Each case study has a brief summary of the crowdfunding campaign, and lists tips from the project creators, for others thinking of crowdfunding their citizen science initiatives.

Case Study 1: Pieris Project — | |@PierisProject

The Pieris Project, founded by Sean Ryan and his grad student colleagues at the University of Notre Dame/University of Nevada Reno, launched their crowdfunding campaign in October 2014.

The crowdfunding campaign was timed to launch after the announcement of their citizen science initiative earlier that summer. The project was seeking $6,000 in start-up funds to make “backyard explorer kits” for the collection of an invasive butterfly species (Pieris rapae), and for DNA sequencing. More on the specifics of their project can be found at their website.

The campaign ran for 30 days, and was successful in raising $6,570 dollars (109% of their goal), attracting 104 backers, at an average donation size of ~$63.

Tips from Sean, and the Pieris Project team for first time crowdfunders:

1/ Get plugged into social media. Even if you weren’t before, by the end of your crowdfunding campaign, you will be very familiar with Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.

2/ Think critically about your demographic. Always ask, who would be interested in this work? Why would they be interested? Where should I simplify the content, and where should I not?

3/ Be prepared to put in the time. Our team spent the entire month of our campaign sending a lot of e-mails. You have to commit to spreading the word about your project.

Case Study 2: SPLASSH Project — | | @SPLASSHdata

The SPLASSH Project was founded by Dr. Lisa Adams at Kennesaw State University. She launched her crowdfunding campaign in July 2014.

Lisa’s campaign was focused on raising funds to help with the development of the (alpha-version) of the SPLASSH platform — a crowdsourced platform and social network for tracking the condition of our waterways. The campaign was seeking $1,973 to develop the gamification component the platform as well as for some of the backend development.

The campaign ran for 60 days, and was successful in raising $2,126 dollars, attracting 25 backers, at an average donation size of ~$85.

Tips from Lisa and the SPLASSH team for first time crowdfunders:

1/ Have your elevator pitch ready. You have to be able to explain what you’re doing — quickly and succinctly. Constantly question how you explain your project, and how it might be important to someone else!

2/ Pre-campaign, and start early. Think about doing some of the outreach for your campaign before it launches. This is a good way to let people know that something is coming and to get early supporters!

3/ Don’t be afraid to talk up your work. Your crowdfunding campaign is a great opportunity to open dialogue and engage with people about your work more broadly. You never know who you might stumble across that is really interested in your work.

While its still early, there are promising signs that crowdfunding can play a role in helping to fill some of the funding gaps that exists for early-stage citizen science efforts. Driven by similar motivations for involving the public, as well as relying on similar skillsets for engaging them, we expect to see more crossover between scientists who launch citizen science projects, and those who crowdfund (and vice versa!).

The notion of involving the “crowd” holds a lot of promise for science — and we’re excited to see the continued growth of broader communities that have both doers and funders that want to directly move the needle on important scientific topics.

If you have questions, comments, or would like chat with someone on the team about your citizen science initiative, tweet at us @lets_experiment or e-mail

Also — are you at either the CitSci2015 conference, or AAAS 2015 Meeting in San Jose? If so, you can find our team at the CitSci2015 poster session (2/11), and at Booth 526 at AAAS (2/12–2/16). We’d love to learn more about your citizen science initiative, and see how crowdfunding might fit in!