Current efforts to build a science crowdfunding community akin to the technology crowdfunding of KickStarter are largely a cut and paste of what works in for-profit space: similar presentation of projects, similar flow for donors and project managers, and so on. I remain dubious that this will work well, as the motivations for all parties are very different when comparing research funding to purchasing a new gizmo or comic, but I am nonetheless hopeful that among all of the experimentation someone will hit upon the magic recipe in the years ahead. Some fraction of people do meaningfully support science, after all, and this is demonstrated by the success of middle man organizations such as the big per-disease charities for various cancers, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and so on. These groups serve as intermediaries that process the incoherent desire to help and pipe money from donors to specific projects where it can do some good - or at least that is the way things work in the ideal world. This modern information age is all about disintermediation, however: making it so easy to find out how to donate to specific research projects within a donor's field of interest that much of the present function of the intermediary charities will ultimately fade away. The degree to which this will happen and the role played by present methods of crowdsourcing remain to be seen.
A recent post from Maria Konovalenko notes the existence of the very newly created venture LabCures. This is a research crowdfunding platform that focuses on the laboratory group as the fundamental unit to follow and fund rather than a per-project layout. This creates a very different dynamic to the fundraising process, and given what I've seen so far of online research crowdfunding I think that this is an approach well worth trying. The most success I have when fundraising is when doing so for a known organization, rather than for any specific project at that organization. People support teams, not games, and the level of knowledge needed jumps precipitously if you are asking someone to pick and choose research projects.
So you might consider this in the context of the potential for disintermediation noted above; after a certain point, people don't want to do the digging for information, but rather just donate and trust a reputable broker to direct the funds to where they can best be used. It is a big leap in and of itself to go from a general position of supporting research to cure a specific disease all the way to knowing enough to back specific laboratory groups: to know that you could be rooting for Wake Forest rather than just regenerative medicine in general. For most people that doesn't happen until they are suffering from the disease in question. Supporting teams in medical research might be all we should expect from busy, distracted people with access to the libraries of the internet, and thus the target that crowdfunding groups should aim for: building brand awareness for the competing teams, as it were. That goal intersects well with what the laboratories themselves are interested in achieving, as brand and public awareness have large impacts on all areas of their fundraising. So perhaps it should not be surprising to find that LabCures is a spin-off venture from one of these laboratories:
LabCures, a new for-profit spinoff from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, hopes to generate money for new research in the life sciences by using the Internet to attract lots of smaller donations. "The projects on our platform are not coming from the crowd, they are coming from a very unique, irreplaceable group of researchers. We're inviting all life science research labs in the United States, from institutes to universities to nonprofits, onto one platform and organizing the labs in ways that matter to the donor."
Unique to LabCures, all labs on our platform come from verified University and Institute non-profit research facilities. Recognized scientists and open accountability means a new and direct method for contributing to medical research. Contributions made in the US are 100% tax deductible.
Researchers focus on science. LabCures is designed for individuals to find and support medical research that matters to them. By hosting labs in the life sciences we are able to focus on the unique characteristics of funding medical and biological research in ways that are meaningful. The reward is knowing, celebrating and empowering the research community.
LabCures does not set a time limit on lab profiles. Verified labs share current projects and associated budgets on an ongoing basis. Once a lab reaches its fundraising goal for a particular project it will update its followers on that project. This helps facilitate ongoing partnerships between contributors and researchers.
Labs keep what they raise. Research is not all or nothing and neither is LabCures. We understand contributions to research can be highly personal acts for which a lab will always benefit. We are worldwide. LabCures enables participation between the research community and any individual from anywhere in the world.
We make funding research easy. Users can reference their contributions made on LabCures and preference a debit or credit card to support a lab on a monthly basis. Users will also receive tax deductible receipts via email. Users will also stay current to research via update notifications from the lab.
You'll note that the initial groups populating the LabCures system are all aging research laboratories, which is understandable given the folk involved. This is a venture I'd like to see succeed in making it over the initial hurdle of attracting users and traffic, perhaps by engaging in an effort to present feeds of lab news, ranking labs, and providing review articles on what exactly these specific labs are up to. All of these are functions carried out by successful sites elsewhere, and there is no reason why they couldn't be mixed in with crowdfunding for philanthropic fundraising. At the very least, success here is measured in the degree to which other science crowdfunding sites such as Experiment grasp the point of the per-laboratory approach and work to adapt it into their systems.