Case: Children’s National Health System

Crowdfunding pilot


Funding was a key issue for the Robert Fellows of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. The Fellows were a few months into the year-long program, and it was clear that to successfully implement their game-changing ideas, each of them needed to obtain external funding to be able to proceed with their projects.

Then, the JOBS Act passed (April 5th, 2012). Suddenly, crowdfunding had the potential to be a viable funding source beyond Kickstarter campaigns.

The problem

Could crowdfunding be used to raise funds effectively for Robert Fellows and the other projects in the institute? Could it be a means to advance pediatric innovation projects and make the institute sustainable? Could pediatric surgical innovation projects have the same appeal as St. Jude’s Cancer advertisements?

The solution

Over a period of 6 months, a small team initiated the project and launched a pilot for a pediatric crowdfunding website.

Alignment of the objectives of the crowdfunding pilot with the institute’s strategic goals enabled the team to obtain seed funding outside the traditional funding cycles.

The project was executed with the help of two enthusiastic summer interns. All key stakeholders were involved in the development which helped to speed up decision making and the development effort overall.

Involving the stakeholders had also other advantages. It gave the team broader support for the project and made that they could tap into additional resources that were key to the success of the project.

Set clear milestones for each next step of your innovation project and involve all stakeholders

Discovery-driven planning was used to set clear milestones and milestone criteria along the way. For the pilot, having clearly defined go/no-go criteria for further development made that everyone was on the same page and knew what needed to happen.

The outcomes

Over $10k was raised from over 80 donors. The crowdfunding website had over 1100 unique page views, with an average read of 1:48 min per page.

To accomplish these goals, including all the development efforts, took the marketing department 10 hours, the foundation about 30 hours, the principal investigators about 40 hours, and the team lead about 45 hours, while our two summer students did the bulk of the work (about 400 hours).

Since the pilot did not reach its fundraising targets or the goals set to reach a new audience, the project was not continued.

Most valuable were the lessons learned that came out of this pilot project: the organization nor its principal investigators were ready for crowdfunding.

The pilot taught the organization that crowdfunding requires principal investigators to have well established social networks with deep ties into the local community and patient populations they are servicing. Social ties with colleagues, family, and friends are not enough. So it could never be a suitable fundraising mechanism for fellows, who were still early in their careers.  It also became clear that using the existing charitable giving platform took away from the key principles behind crowdfunding.

Side benefits of the project were the increased ties and respect between the people working for the hospital's fundraising foundation and the researchers of the institute.