I invited Dr. Jai Ranganathan to write a guest post about his latest project - #SciFund Challenge - for us. Dr. Jai Ranganathan is an ecologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. He can be found on Twitter at @jranganathan.

Join the #SciFund Challenge!

Where does the money come from for doing science? If you are a scientist, you know the fundraising landscape is getting worse and worse. All of the traditional sources of cash for science – government agencies and private foundations - are getting harder and harder to access. So what is a scientist to do?

Over the past few years, a brand new way to raise money over the internet has arisen, a way called crowdfunding. Think of it as the next step of the fundraising model that charities have used for ages. Countless charities collect lots of small donations from regular people that they pool together to do big things. Crowdfunding takes this idea, gives it a social media twist, and brings it to everyone, not just charities. Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and RocketHub provide a place where everyone can conduct their own private campaigns. These websites provide a platform and the ability to process credit card payments, but these private campaigns are entirely driven by the individuals behind them. Crowdfunding campaigns have collectively raised many millions of dollars for all sorts of projects, from movies to African aid efforts to a full-sized statue of RoboCop in Detroit. But this fundraising revolution has left science behind.

That's where the #SciFund Challenge comes in. For the month of November 2011, scientists participating in the #SciFund Challenge will run their own crowdfunding campaign to fund a small portion of their research. How small? Something that costs in the range of hundreds to low thousands of dollars. Why so small? The smaller the dollar target, the greater the chance of success. And raising money by crowdfunding is very different than the standard methods of raising research dollars (hitting up government agencies and big foundations). So, let's walk before we can run. But the good news is that the skills you'll pick up in running a small crowdfunding campaign are exactly the same skills you'll need to fund a much, much larger project.

Even though participants in the Challenge will be running their own crowdfunding projects, no one will be doing this alone. One of the key roles of the SciFund Challenge will be to give pointers and advice on the nuts and bolts of running a crowdfunding campaign. Equally importantly, behind the scenes, participants will be helping each other with their projects, giving encouragement, ideas, and feedback.

So, what are you waiting for? If you are a scientist of any level (beginning grad student to emeritus professor to independent) in any discipline, sign up to participate in the #SciFund Challenge. We'd love to have you.

To learn more, see these blog posts from the site:

The #SciFund Challenge: A Call to (virtual) Arms

How will the #SciFund Challenge work?

The hidden agenda behind the #SciFund Challenge

Over 20 scientists have already signed up!

#SciFund Challenge doomed to fail? No way!

A Shock to the Science Crowdfunding Ecosystem

#SciFund back in the saddle

...and some coverage elsewhere:

The New Scientist: The road less traveled

“Science… sort of”: Growing up Science


Image: We Can Do It! by J. Howard Miller.

Previously in this series:

What is: Open Laboratory 2011

What is: Science Online London

What is: #NYCSciTweetUp

What is: Science Online New York City

What Is: ScienceBlogging.org

What is: The Story Collider

What is: NASW