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Public impact is the path to private donations

Professor Jacob Sherson has received a donation from an American private trust: to begin with USD 500,000 to fund the application of his research method to teaching materials. Public impact is absolutely central for private donors, who are also willing to take risks and support research which challenges the accepted paradigms.

Jacob Sherson is a physicist, and  his research group ScienceAtHome develops citizen science computer games which generate data for research. Each game is based on a research problem. While the project has generated exciting data, it also breaks with traditional methods of data collection, which can be a challenge when seeking to attract funding.

“When you do research on the edge, there are a lot of funders who won’t support it. We’re working exploratively, and when our research method is subjected to a peer review, it’s evaluated on a very conservative basis. The external reviewers are generally not enthusiastic about projects which they consider to be risky. This is why private trusts and donors are interesting for us,” Jacob Sherson explains

Research, impact, network, donation
The United States has a stronger tradition for private donations, and Jacob Sherson has focussed his efforts specifically on this source of funding. His research reached a world audience after an article in Nature, and he participated actively in networks of researchers with an interest in using games as a method of generating data and solving research questions together with gamers. “We’ve specifically worked to take our research and demonstrate its potential for making a broader impact, both in science and in civil society. I’ve incorporated that into my scientific talks and at meetings. And then you become part of a new network that’s interested, and where someone knows some one, et cetera.”

But you don’t sell your research results to a private donor: you sell public impact. It has to make a difference. And you have to present the impact aspect in a different way. “In our case, the hypothesis is that if the pupils experience a connection to modern cutting-edge research, they gain a deeper motivation for learning and understanding,” Sherson says.

He has slowly but steadily gained personal contacts through networking: “Someone knows someone who knows someone who has a contact. And suddenly, you have a contract with a private trust. Here there’s only one person who has to make a decision, which leads to faster decisions if you get an interview. The owners of private trusts do what they want if they’re interested in a project. And after you’ve gotten one donation, it gets easier to get the next one,” Sherson explains. However, he did encounter one problem: the donation was made on condition that it was tax-free. Fortunately, the Research Support Office was able to help resolve that issue. (Read more below)

Read more about Jacob Sherson’s research here.

Tax-free status for American donations                                                

 AU has concluded an agreement with the King Baudouin Foundation United States (KBFUS) regarding the conditions for American donations, in order to avoid their taxation. Under the agreement with KBFUS, Jacob Sherson and other AU researchers can receive donations from American sources under favourable conditions for the American donor – and by extension for the Danish recipient as well.

KBFUS and a variety of other organisations offer European universities the possibility of establishing sub-foundations to which Americans can make tax-free donations. A number of prominent European universities have made agreements of this kind with KBFUS. The Research Support Office has been in contact with these universities, and has received favourable accounts of their collaboration with KBFUS.

The Research Support Office has many years of experience with research donations. If you have questions about the possibilities or formalities, or perhaps even contact to a potential American donor, we encourage you to contact Jakob Dragsdal Sørensen at the Research Support Office for more information about procedure. The procedure for grants from well-known American foundations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael J. Fox, is unchanged.