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University funds band together in joint crowdfunding for research


Through radio commercials, advertisements in national newspapers and the voice of a Dutch celebrity, fourteen university funds are joining forces for the very first time to attract donations for scientific research.

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The idea behind the campaign is that universities can achieve more together than individually. Normally, university funds tend to approach their own alumni to ask for donations, but this time they are making a nationwide appeal.

An animated video on their joint website says: “We possess the knowledge and the vision, and with your support we can achieve results more quickly”. The narrator sounds familiar to most Dutchies: it's the voice of physicist Diederik Jekel, a well-known science journalist.

The website features an overview of research projects being conducted by each university, which can be accessed either by answering a few questions or clicking through a map of the Netherlands. For example, one of the questions is "Does a breast cancer screening always have to be painful?". By clicking on it, you're directed to a page about a research project at the University of Twente.

An explanatory note by Twente professor Chris de Korte states that a million euros could fund two extra PhD candidates for the research in question. Their goal is to improve breast cancer screening, and donations from the public can help speed up the research.

A number of other medical research projects can be found on the website as well, focusing on topics as varied as cancer, dementia and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. Other research topics include energy, biodiversity and inequality.

More quickly
The university funds are closely associated with the universities but are nevertheless independent, elucidates Lilian Visscher, Director of the Leiden University Fund, on behalf of the campaign. The funds have their own boards and their own articles of association. “Sometimes we fund research that would otherwise get no money, such as the work of young researchers. But sometimes the research simply gets done more quickly if it gets some support.”

She refers to the crowdfunding campaign that took place in Leiden at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which gave a flying start to research into Covid-19. The money for this project came from all over the country, enabling researchers to get to work right away.

Most university funds only have a limited outreach, Visscher admits. You can never top the nationwide campaigns of charities like the KWF Dutch Cancer Society, Greenpeace, and Amnesty International. The universities hope they can raise their profile with a joint campaign.

Commenting on how much such a campaign costs, Visscher refrains from giving a number, but says it is fortunately not too high, simply because there are fourteen funds acting together. “We are very careful with our expenditures”, guarantees Visscher, "which is normal when it comes to organisations like ours. But if you do nothing, people won’t know anything about you.”

First donations
The first donations are starting to show up. Since December 2020, the breast cancer research group at Twente, which has been using crowdfunding for quite a while, has secured more than 7,000 euros. Another 150 euros came in yesterday, according to the website.

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