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In public education systems, teachers, as frontline service providers, face numerous challenges when it comes to securing a diverse learning experience for their students. Applying for crowdfunding, although a tedious and time-intensive process, can yield significant support for those in need of resources. Whether these crowdfunded resources can facilitate teaching outcomes is unclear. A recent Journal of Marketing Research article discusses exactly this concern and studies the effect of crowdfunding in public education. The concept of using a market-based solution to fulfill the unmet needs of teachers in public education institutions has long been discussed, but its usefulness and benefit for students or institutions with diverse needs remains unclear until this research. The authors of this article explain the positive impact of crowdfunding in the public education sector by showing how and when student academic achievement can be improved by this strategy. The study empirically shows that crowdfunding resources can improve offline teaching outcomes by:
- Meeting students’ heterogeneous intellectual needs
- Allowing donors to screen and approve promising projects
The authors construct a novel dataset from the California Department of Education and DonorsChoose, an online crowdfunding platform, to conduct this research. In particular, they obtain the measures of student academic achievement from the California Department of Education, and measures of crowdfunded resources from DonorsChoose. They apply a series of comprehensive cross-sectional analysis at the school-subject-year level while controlling for school/district-level factors and other unobserved factors to study the effect of crowdfunding in educational settings. Interestingly, the authors not only find a positive relationship between crowdfunded resources and student academic achievement but they also find that:
- The improvement in student academic achievement is greater when the crowdfunded resources satisfy more heterogeneous intellectual needs.
- The improvement only comes from the fully approved crowdfunded projects by donors. These findings together explain whether and how crowdfunded resources improve student academic achievement.
Considering this research is one of the first to empirically study how crowdfunding can improve academic performance, it holds key implications for multiple parties involved, including managers handling the crowdfunding resources, policy makers, and the frontline employees (teachers).
We had a chance to contact the authors to learn more about their study and gain additional insights.
Q: Crowdfunding is being used to raise resources for a variety of pressing issues like health, well-being, and loss of a loved one. What made you focus on crowdfunding in the public education sector?
A: We work in the higher education industry, so we have some natural inclination to pay more attention to the education sector. Over the last decade, there have been a lot of discussions on the news about the lack of support for public schools and teachers. The issues faced by public schools and teachers can lead to serious implications for the future of the higher education industry and society in general. We happened to learn about DonorsChoose and their public dataset. We wondered what role crowdfunding could play in helping public schools and teachers, so we decided to do some research related to crowdfunding and education. We hoped that our research could provide some implications for both the public education sector and crowdfunding platforms.
Q: What policies do you think could be adopted in order to prevent potential misuse of crowdfunding?
A: Crowdfunding platforms could verify teachers’ identities. Furthermore, instead of sending the crowdfunded money to teachers, crowdfunding websites could send the materials requested by teachers. They can also request teachers to show some evidence, like a picture, of students using those materials. These are all current policies of DonorsChoose and they seem to work well to alleviate any misuse of the platform.
Q: Since there are currently multiple crowdfunding platforms, what methodology did you follow to narrow down and finalize which platform/s to use for the study?
A: The public education sector is a special context, so it would be cleaner to find a crowdfunding website that specializes in this sector. DonorsChoose fits this criterion perfectly.
Q: You mention the misuse of crowdfunding platforms in your implications section. While conducting the research, did you come across any such fraudulent project on the DonorsChoose platform? If yes, how did you control for that?
A: DonorsChoose has good policies to prevent misuse of crowdfunding, so the records in their data look quite clear. We didn’t come across any fraudulent or suspicious project.
Q: How do you explain the observed difference in performance which varies by subject?
A: This is a good question. We also felt very intrigued. We think it might be that language skills can be improved more easily with more exposure (e.g., more books, more stories), whereas increased exposure alone might not be sufficient to improve math skills. Of course, this is only a conjecture.
Q: What suggestions can authors give to young scholars on working with scraped data?
A: We didn’t scrape data for this project. We used the data files published by DonorsChoose. Public data can be valuable resources for our research. The only caveat is that the researchers were not involved in the data generation process, so before jumping into any projects or analyses, it is very important to take time to understand the context and the data. This will help with choosing appropriate research questions, designs, and methods.
Read the full article:
Zhou, Chen, Manpreet Gill, and Qiang Liu (2022), “Empowering Education with Crowdfunding: The Role of Crowdfunded Resources and Crowd Screening,” Journal of Marketing Research, 59 (1), 97–117. doi:10.1177/00222437211033536
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