Professor studying better ways of online fundraising

Posted on: August 3, 2011

If you build it (the right way), they will give.

The “it” is a website designed to encourage crowd funding, an online method of matching people willing to donate money for a cause. The “give,” of course, is money.

Rick Wash, an assistant professor in Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences, says existing crowd funding sites are good, but could be better. And he is using a grant of nearly $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to develop ways to make these sites more effective.

In particular, Wash is interested in improving upon sites that can assist online news-gathering operations – sites such as “spot.us” – and those that can help college and university fundraising.

“On a typical crowd funding site, it’s difficult for people to find projects that are exact matches for their interests,” Wash said. “Our project will help identify ways to make it easier for matches between donors and projects to occur.”

In the world of journalism, for example, it’s no secret that newspapers are suffering financially. Websites such as spot.us have helped bring together journalists, especially those doing longer, more investigative pieces, and donors willing to fund those kinds of projects.

The problem, Wash said, is that is somewhat limiting.

“This is not helpful in the coverage of breaking news or the coverage of beats,” he said. “We are going to look at some different things that can be put into place that will help fund, for example, a beat system.”

Crowd funding also can be a potentially useful tool for college and university fundraising, Wash said. It’s generally assumed that recent college graduates aren’t yet in a position to donate to their alma maters.

Wash said that is not necessarily the case. He argues that younger graduates would be willing to donate, but only to very specific projects.

“We’re working to develop a crowd funding system for universities in which a donor can give to a very specific project,” he said, “such as giving money to a certain student or faculty member who is working on a particular research project, such as stem-cell research.”

Wash also is working to deal with some of the problems that plague crowd funding in general. Example: If someone donates to a cause, and that cause does not reach its fundraising goal, does the donor get his or her money back?

Wash and his team will be putting together computer simulations to see what works and what doesn’t. Subjects will be brought into a computer lab to test the various models.

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