Some Best Practices for Crowdfunding

Researchers who want to raise money for specific research projects may be interested in “crowdfunding”—using one of many external online websites to directly reach out to potential supporters. While individual researchers are free to receive gifts in support of research, it is important that you understand the complexities of the issue.

Crowdfunding FAQs

Should you pursue crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding might seem like a great solution for small-scale projects that need a little extra boost, but it does require careful planning and a significant investment of time. Researchers should think carefully—and realistically—about how they will balance these needs with the potential payoff from crowdfunding.

Why would a researcher use a crowdfunding platform?
The most successful crowdfunded projects require regular updates, and it is an opportunity to engage your supporters in science. In fact, it may be best to think of crowdfunding as a public engagement activity, more than a fundraising activity. The “sweet spot” for most crowdfunded projects is fairly small, around $5,000.

Can you use the university's name and logo?
You can certainly share stories and news produced by the University, just as you would on other social media platforms. However, if you are going to use such materials for fundraising purposes, you should get permission from the University. It is important that you not imply that the University of Illinois is endorsing your fundraising efforts or that you are speaking on behalf of the University as part of your campaign, without explicit permission to do so.

How can you use crowdfunded dollars to support research at Illinois?
You can raise money for a personal research project, and then “gift” those funds to the University for use in your research, in accordance with University policy. Note: people who donate to support your cause do not get a tax deduction from the University, because they are not giving a gift to the University—they are giving to you! Any funds that you raise likely would be considered income to you. This may have tax implications for you, and it is your responsibility to understand how crowdfunding would affect your individual tax situation. 

How can you improve your chances of success?
Your unit communications staff may be able to help you consider your goals, create effective narratives and updates, or launch your campaign, but this will vary by unit, depending on capacity and alignment with organizational goals. Regardless, it would be wise to alert them to your plans—they can be prepared in case questions come to them and can provide input and advice if your project generates controversy. You should also connect with your unit advancement team—they may know of opportunities to engage with a larger audience and can help advise on additional issues or concerns related to your project.

Ultimately, though, remember that a crowdfunded project is a personal project. If you want to increase your chances of success, you’ll want to carefully research best practices and think creatively about all aspects of your campaign.

If you've decided not to pursue crowdfunding, what university resources could support your project?
Depending on your affiliation with the University, many units offer Seed Funding programs (with rotating application deadlines). The OVCR’s Campus Research Board may also be a useful option. And staff in both the Office of Corporate Relations and the Office of Foundation Relations may have ideas and suggestions.

Crowdfunding Tips for Researchers

Decide on a platform

Examples include or is specifically tailored to research. Be sure to consider fees and rules – they vary, platform to platform.

Define your goals

What are you ultimately hoping to achieve with your project? Money? Exposure? Something else? Be sure to clearly define your ultimate goal.

Develop a narrative

  • This is storytelling! Use first person, present tense, and active verbs.
  • Needs to be compelling, should include emotions
  • Think about both the big picture and the details that make things interesting
  • High-quality visuals are important
  • Be specific – have a clear ask!


Think about how you will tap into your personal network to publicize the campaign. Email friends, family, and colleagues, and share via social media. If you know any “influencers” in your field or community, share your project with them.

Plan to Give Updates

Plan ahead about the project milestones that you will share with backers. You could even prepare draft updates before launching the project, so you have them ready to go with minimal editing – this will save time when you are busy making the project happen. Ways to communicate with your supporters include:

  • Video: Keep them SHORT! (<2 minutes) Remember, you can share relevant materials, like videos or news releases, that you create or those produced by University of Illinois communications units. However, if you choose to use or edit University-created content for your fundraising project, be sure to get permission from the University first (as this material is copyrighted by the Board of Trustees).
  • Regular blogs
  • Project website
  • Social media posts

While you are planning ahead, be sure to think about how you will thank donors for supporting your project. You can find many creative examples online. 

What If Your Project Becomes Controversial?

It is important to consider possible ways your project could be controversial (even if that controversy is due to misunderstanding, misinterpretation, etc.) Before you launch your project, consider brainstorming with your unit communications staff or a friend who is not in your field – someone who is not as familiar with your discipline may see potential pitfalls that you miss. It will also be helpful to develop “talking points” to help people understand the project clearly and to counter common misconceptions.

Understand the Financial Implications

  • Any money you raise from outside the University via crowdfunding would be considered income by the IRS, and will have tax implications. Make sure you understand what that means for your specific situation.
  • To donate the funds you receive to a University gift account, you’ll need to use the “Employee Donor Agreement Form

University Rules Still Apply

Once crowdsourced funds are given to the University, they act just like any other gift funds—which means that the University owns any Intellectual Property that may come out of the crowdfunded research. Researchers should also keep in mind that “research rules” still apply, too. Make sure you are aware of your safety and compliance requirements, and disclose any potential conflicts of interest.

For Further Reading (External Resources)

Related FAQ's

Crowdfunding might seem like a great solution for small-scale projects that need a little extra boost, but it does require careful planning and a significant investment of time. Researchers should think carefully—and realistically—about how they will balance these needs with the potential payoff from crowdfunding.