UW Crowdfunding Research

Our team (Lauren Berliner, Nora Kenworthy, Jin-Kyu Jung, Mark Igra, Emily Fuller, and other collaborators–see below) has been studying the use and impacts of medical crowdfunding in the United States since 2015. In particular, our research looks at several implications of crowdfunding:sign on a condemned building reads "charity is not justice"

  • What impacts is crowdfunding having on health and social inequities?
  • How does the use of crowdfunding overlap with geospatial patterns of inequity and health injustice in the United States?
  • How is crowdfunding changing the way societies conceptualize rights, responsibilities, charity, and social connection?
  • What are the impacts of our increasing reliance on crowdfunding as a means of responding to crisis and disaster?

Recent Research

Please follow the links below to connect with our recent research – and see more extended descriptions blow.


Our latest paper looks at crowdfunding for COVID-19 related expenses during the first 7 months of the pandemic. We find very high levels of campaign failure, extreme inequalities in campaign returns, and significant correlations between higher income and education and crowdfunding use and outcomes. This paper received significant news coverage (see below for some examples). We wrote up a related op-ed on the topic for the LA Times. A press release summarizing findings is also available.

Our first paper on medical crowdfunding, “Producing a Worthy Illness: Personal Crowdfunding Amidst Financial Crisis,” was the first empirical study on this topic in the US. Our analysis combined qualitative and quantitative data from a pilot study of 200 randomly sampled crowdfunding campaigns, and was published in Social Science and Medicine. Our work for this was funded and supported by the Simpson Center for the Humanities and the Royalty Research Fund. As part of this project, we held a symposium at the University of Washington on Crowdsourcing Care which was written up for the journal Medicine, Anthropology, Theory.

A recent paper on this topic in Medical Anthropology Quarterly captures several years of ethnographic data collection on crowdfunding platforms and users, exploring how these platforms create, value, and also disguise inequities. Centering users’ stories, we’re able to get a close-up view of how these platforms cultivate specific affects, influence users’ sense of deservingness, and ultimately create vast inequalities in outcomes between marginalized and privileged users.

Another recent paper (with Zhihang Dong, Anne Montgomery, Emily Fuller, and Lauren Berliner) expands previous research to look at gender and race disparities in medical crowdfunding use and outcomes. This is the first known analysis of gender and race inequities in medical crowdfunding in the US. The study offers evidence of systemic disparities, especially for those with marginalized race and gender identities. See “A cross-sectional study of social inequities in medical crowdfunding campaigns in the United States.”

I am also continuing research looking at global health crowdfunding websites, a project which connects with, and leverages, my interests in the politics and policy implications of global health funding and delivery models.  In 2018 I published a paper in Medicine Anthropology Theory on Watsi, a global health crowdfunding platform, titled “Drone Philanthropy? Global Health Crowdfunding and the Anxious Futures of Partnership.” In a paper for Globalization & Health I provide a conceptual and exploratory analysis of medical crowdfunding use around the world and its impacts on health disparities. This paper explores how medical crowdfunding shapes population health as a technological, commercial, and political determinant of health across the world. “Crowdfunding and global health disparities: An exploratory conceptual and empirical analysis.” 

Selected Media Coverage 

Because of its relevance to ongoing debates about health insurance and health care access in the US, our work on crowdfunding has garnered local and national press attention. Some of those news stories are linked below.

For press inquiries, please contact myself at njk8 at uw dot edu.