Crowdfunding to Fund Your Ideas

Crowdfunding is a mechanism to fund a project by collecting small amounts of money from a lot of people. For hospitals, biomedical research institutes and medical schools, crowdfunding is emerging as an important means by which to fund new and innovative ideas as well as to expand ongoing initiatives to cure disease and improve patient care. The basic premise is to pitch your project to the people (on the internet), tell them about your idea (usually in a video), and tell them how much it will cost to get the data that you need or to implement your idea.

Crowdfunders tend to come from a different crowd than the more traditional charitable donor. They tend to be younger and represent a broader demographic, they take an active role in choosing precisely what they would like to fund, and amounts they donate cover a wider (and lower) range. A crowdfunder is also likely to be particularly interested in the data or products that you generate. They donate because they want to be part of the project, and this means that a crowdfunding seeker needs to expend effort engaging donors--not only thanking them, but keeping them updated on project progress.

In addition to providing an opportunity to fund your creative and high-risk ideas, crowdfunding offers an outstanding opportunity to educate and inform people about your research and ideas. If crowdfunders are excited and inspired by your ideas they will often return to help you with your next (maybe bigger) idea.

First, we encourage you to apply for crowdfunding. There are resources on campus that can help you develop your campaign, and we urge you to take advantage of them (see below). We also encourage you to contact our Crowdfund working group for guidance and advice.

Your donors will know that, as a member of the Mount Sinai community, you are part of a top-flight research organization that provides you with access to tools and intellectual capital not available to many and that your research complies with the highest ethical standards. As a Mount Sinai investigator you should arrange to have your funds transferred directly from the Crowdfunding site to Mount Sinai for distribution. Your donors’ contributions will then be tax-deductible and the Development Department will be able to issue the necessary receipts. All donations are subject to a 25% gift tax that includes the crowdfunding site charges and this needs to be incorporated in your budget. Forty-eight hours before uploading your campaign you must complete a one page form to be filed with the Development Department.

Several crowdfunding sites have developed materials that tell you what you need to do in order to launch a successful project. There are clear differences between how you present a traditional grant proposal and how you present an idea and follow up in a crowdfunding campaign.

Below we've listed those crowdfunding sites that have a reputation for funding science conducted at universities or medical schools:

  • RocketHub
    RocketHub is based in New York City and has a science-savvy following. In particular, you can ask to have your project placed within subcategories like “University Tech Vault” that could give your project higher visibility to a targeted audience. Rockethub lets you keep what you raise, even if you don’t make your goal, and similar to most sites, you can exceed your goal if contributions are high. Nearly 50% of their science-related projects reach 70% funding and 38% acheive the goal. Site fee is 8%.
  • Indiegogo
    Indiegogo is one of the two biggest crowdfunding sites (Kickstarter is the other). While there are few life sciences projects, Indiegogo has a big audience for technology. Successful projects here commonly reach $100,000 and several have brought in more than a million. Campaigns linked to a nonprofit (like us) are eligible for a reduced platform fee (6.75% vs. the usual 9% fee). Fees are reduced for campaigns that reach (or exceed) their goal (3% or 4%, respectively).
  • Experiment
    This site funds only science, so the audience is dedicated. Relative to the other sites it is new and building, but it appears to be particularly welcoming to the life sciences and biomedical research. The funding model is all or nothing. For those projects that are 100% funded, Experiment takes an 8% fee and for those that are not, nothing is taken in cash or fees.
  • SciFund Challenge
    SciFund Challenge is a nonprofit that empowers scientists to shrink the gap between science and society. We train scientists how to connect to the public, back scientists in their outreach, and crowdfund to support research. The goal? A more science engaged world.

Successful projects rely heavily on social media. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) offers Social Media Guidelines to help you navigate the social media landscape for professional purposes.

Your campaign will be linked to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) and all funds will be sent directly to ISMMS. The Development Department in partnership with your Department will set up an account with a fund number in order to disburse funds for the project.