In DepthFunding

Ambitious web fundraising startup fails to meet big goals

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Science  04 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6312, pp. 534
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6312.534

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It seemed like a promising deal. Pay up to $2000 to have your research project featured on a slick website aimed at affluent donors looking to support a good cause and get a tax break, and then watch the money roll in. But it hasn’t paid off for most of the 650 researchers who signed up with Benefunder, a 3-year-old firm based in San Diego, California, that once envisioned raising more than a billion dollars annually for research. Just six researchers have received donations totaling some $250,000 through Benefunder, Science has learned. The startup has had to lay off most of its employees and is struggling to revamp its business model. And although some efforts to use the internet to raise money for research have hit pay dirt, Benefunder’s stumble represents a cautionary tale from the promising, but sometimes perilous, frontier of virtual fundraising.