gofundme“By pledging just one or two dollars, you are helping us in our fervent quest to not have to do stuff. If you pledge $10 or more, you will receive this luxurious company micro badge.”

This was the plea made by South Park character Eric Cartman in his Kickstarter Campaign video in the episode, “Go Fund Yourself.”

This plea, and this episode, was Utah State University graduate student Dave Denlinger’s first introduction to crowdfunding. After viewing the episode, Denlinger, who is pursuing a PhD in Medical Entomology, created a GoFundMe account to help pay for his living expenses during summer 2015.

“I was talking to my advisor and we realized there was no funding available to support me over the summer,” Denlinger said. “We tried furiously to find funding, but it just didn’t happen.”

Denlinger planned to spend the summer working with undergraduate students in his lab, but without funding, he considered returning home to work as a golf caddy. With nothing to lose, he tried his hand at crowdfunding.

“I set up a GoFundMe and I shared it on Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “I asked my friends and family to share it too. If they couldn’t help, I’d ask them to at least tell people about it.”

Denlinger raised $2,600 to help support himself throughout the summer.

“It was pretty cool, and I was pretty surprised by the results,” he said. “I was very fortunate.”

Denlinger is not alone in using crowdfunding as a way to support himself and his research.

USU Postdoctoral Fellow Melissa Haeffner created a GoFundMe campaign in January 2015 to help raise funds for an exhibition trip to Antarctica. Haeffner’s goal was to raise $15,000 to cover travel costs.

She has now raised more than $31,000 in both monetary and in-kind donations.

“I’ve received more than just money,” she said. “People have generously given of their time and helped support us in many ways.”

As Haeffner plans to depart in December, she’s grateful for the generous community support she’s received.

“People are just so generous and wonderful,” Haeffner said. “I’m overwhelmed by their excitement for me and the trip.”

Haeffner received $500 from a woman she’s never met, but who is excited about Haeffner’s research. Contributor Leanne Everingham of Australia left a comment on Haeffner’s GoFundMe page: “Let me just say that I am in complete awe of you women, the program is truly inspirational… The focus of your program combines aspirations deep in my heart and for that I will be proud to contribute to the cause. What an amazing experience.”

While Haeffner is thankful for the support she’s received, she said it’s important to not set high expectations when crowdfunding.

“I didn’t have any expectations when I started, and as a result, I am surprised and extraordinarily grateful that I’ve been able to raise as much as I have,” Haeffner said. “But I think if I had started out with high expectations, I’d be disappointed.”

Denlinger said crowdfunding can be a good option for students, but it’s not self-sustaining.

“It’s important for graduate students to know where their financial support’s coming from and to know whether or not they have support.”

— Katie Feinauer, RGS Communications