UC geneticist shares crowd-funding experience

UC geneticist shares crowd-funding experience

Claudia Doman

27 November 2013: When a University of Canberra geneticist appealed to the crowds to fund her sugar gliders research earlier this year she wasn’t sure how her approach would be received.

But by the end of her crowd-funding call, Clare Holleley, a postdoctoral fellow in genetics at the University’s Institute for Applied Ecology, had exceeded her target to raise funds to finance her project on this cute species of furry marsupials.

“I was initially unsure whether the format would work and whether I would be able to fundraise in this way. However, not only did I exceed my funding target, I also attracted new collaborators,” Dr Holleley said.

Clare Holleley

Dr Clare Holleley shares her crowd-funding experience. Photo: Michelle McAulay

She raised more than 110 per cent of funds surpassed her target of $8,200 to raise $9,019 through 74 funders.

Crowd funding has been an increasingly popular way to raise money, usually for artistic projects. It operates by asking the public to contribute relatively modest amounts of money to get a project off the ground, and Dr Holleley believes her campaign was among the first of its kind in the ACT to use crowd sourced funds for scientific research.

Our project is looking into the genetic health of the US sugar glider population and its origins, but gene sequencing costs money and grants are hard to come by so we thought that we could probably help finance our project if we shared it with the community,” Dr Holleley said. “This seemed like the perfect project to try crowd sourcing. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in researching these cute little guys?”

Dr Holleley said exploring this funding avenue was “absolutely worth it”.

“I have seed funding that is going to launch my project, I have attracted a PhD student to help with the work, I have attracted new collaborators and joined a multidisciplinary team that has recently been awarded over $1.5 million dollars in funding for conservation based work,” she said.

She has also engaged several volunteers in the US to help collect and collate samples to strengthen the project and has even been asked to serve as an expert witness in a case concerning wildlife trade.

“Basically this project has taken on a life of its own since my campaign started and is going from strength to strength.”

However, she admits crowd funding would not work with every project.

“You need to find a topic that will engage people. You need to either engage people emotionally or appeal to the hip pocket. My project was successful because it had elements of both. Emotional engagement: the ‘cute’ factor, and having an audience with a financial interest: pet breeders and pet food companies. If you rely on people to donate just out of the goodness of their heart, you probably won't attract many donations.”

You can read more about Dr Holleley’s project on Monitor.