Health Research Benefits from Crowdfunding

UCSF Turns to Indiegogo with Projects that have Global Focus and Reach

By Kevin Eisenmann

Ever the innovator, UCSF is using a new fundraising method to advance health sciences research.

Crowdfunding, which aims to raise small amounts of money from many individuals online, has exploded in recent years, fueled by an exceedingly online society.

indiegogo logo

Tuhin Sinha, associate director of strategic development in UCSF’s Office of Innovation, Technology and Alliances (OITA), took notice of the growing crowdfunding trend a few years ago and helped form a partnership with Indiegogo, a leading crowdfunding platform.

“There are many projects that aren’t necessarily appropriate for a big NIH grant or anything that requires a lengthy application process,” said Sinha. “This gives our faculty more control over the process, but relies on them describing their funding needs to a peer network rather than a traditional granting committee.”

Any UCSF faculty, staff or student can propose a project, and if their department approves, they may list it on Indiegogo. It is then the responsibility of that individual or group to ask friends, family and colleagues to donate. Donors who support the project can contribute any amount online, and if word spreads far enough, projects can raise thousands of dollars or more.

“UCSF is an innovator not only when it comes to science and research, but also when identifying novel ways to fund important projects," said Daniel Scarpelli, senior director of Annual and Special Giving at UCSF. “The challenge in crowdfunding is getting a wide enough reach.”

Diversity of Research Projects

UCSF piloted its crowdfunding effort last December with four projects that spanned across the globe:

  • Rehabilitation Initiative India: Develop a community-based rehabilitation program for a rural community in southern India – $5,330 raised
  • UCSF Global Turnaway: Studying experiences of women around the world who are denied legal abortions – raised $8,490 in addition to a separate, anonymous donation of $80,000
  • Mysteries of the Placenta: Understanding how placental infection trigger preterm labor – $2,183 raised
  • Midwives for Comadronas: Sending staff and life-saving supplies to Guatemala for work with midwives who help women and babies survive childbirth – $13,478 raised

“ReBoot: An Integrative Exercise Study for Veterans with PTSD,” is a research collaboration between the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) that currently is seeking $30,000 in donations by the end of March.

"We were thrilled to partner with UCSF to bring very important research projects to the public to be funded,” said Adam Chapnick, chief evangelist for Indiegogo. “Crowdfunding is the perfect solution for projects that may not fit any grantee priorities at the moment, but are hugely important nonetheless.”

Sinha admits that these early crowdfunding efforts at UCSF are a learning experience, and campus leaders will need to judge what projects are best suited for the “crowd.”

“UCSF excels at studying how things work,” Sinha said. “This will be one of those experiments.”