UCSC is beginning to look seriously into crowd funding for small science and engineering projects (like student senior projects, which typically have budgets around $2k–3k and have very short timelines for finding donors).
I attended an information session (Fund your research through the crowd! – Jack Baskin School of Engineering – UC Santa Cruz) by Microrysa yesterday, which is a small startup specifically interested in crowdfunding science projects for universities. They are doing some things right, but their choice of name (which Google wants to correct to mycorrhizae) indicates a certain naivete about search engine optimization, which is disturbing in a company that is about helping researchers get their research funded by outreach to the public. It also means that people will have a hard time finding their site to make donations, even if they are looking for it.
One thing that Microrysa does right is working with the University so that the funding can go directly into a research account, rather than into a personal bank account where it would be taxable. They also have taken the approach that what science donors want is to be kept up to date on the project, so the “rewards” of donation are progress reports (on the Microrysa website and by e-mail), rather than the T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other junk that SciFund seems to encourage.
I have a project that could use some micro funding. To run the banana slug genomics course again, we’d need some more sequence data: preferably mate-pairs with a moderate insert size (like 1k bases). Estimates for creating and sequencing such a library are around $5k. With that data, plus what we already have, we should be able to assemble the banana slug genome into larger fragments than we currently can—maybe even big enough to do some gene-finding.
Crowdfunding has relatively low overhead (credit-card companies get 3%, the crowd-funding company gets 5%, and UCSC charges a gift tax of 6% to keep their development bureaucrats paid, even if they do none of the work of raising the funds), so researchers would get about 86–87% of the donated funds. Given that Microrysa would be doing most of the work of setting up the web site and collecting the funds, I think that UCSC should forego the gift tax for crowdfunded projects, perhaps getting a contact list of donors instead.