Neuroscientist Jon Pierce-Shimomura, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, needed some special mice for a research project on alcohol addiction but the costs weren’t in his budget. Universities have relied on crowdfunding for replacement cheerleading uniforms, travel expenses for ballroom dance competitions and research equipment not covered by federal grants.
The solicitations, which by nature require contact with large groups of people, create new ways for universities to showcase their contributions to the community while attracting donors not drawn to a traditional capital campaign or to the establishment of a scholarship fund. Nor will it replace the National Institutes of Health, said Pierce-Shimomura, who, like many scientists, depends upon the U.S. government agency to fund the vast majority of his research. The projects are uncovering new supporters previously unknown to the university, he said, recalling how two entomologists tapped into the large -and generous -citizen science community when they promoted their HornRaiser projects to track monarch butterflies on oil rigs and to capture close-up photos of insects. Before HornRaiser kicked off, people who made two donations in one academic year – say $50 to the College of Liberal Arts in the fall and $25 to the university library in the spring – were statistically likely to donate again the second year, Matthys said. Marjie French, vice president for external relations and chief development officer, got the idea for “Launch UTSA” when she attended a presentation in 2013 on ways to approach graduates for donations.
After seeing so many of its students, faculty, staff and alumni launch their own independent crowdfunding projects, the University of Houston is creating its own platform, said Jonathan Brooks, associate director of annual giving. Shih used an independent crowdsourcing platform to raise money to create a commercial market for his invention – a device similar to a contact lens that fits over the camera lens on a smartphone and makes it a microscope. Shih is in the department of electrical and computer engineering and working on a side business with his students to commercialize the research.