The Dos & Don’ts of Fundraising for PhysCon

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The Dos & Don’ts of Fundraising for PhysCon


Danielle Weiland, SPS Programs Coordinator

Danielle Weiland presenting at PhysCon 2012 on behalf of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium High Altitude Balloon Launch Team. Photo courtesy of Eric Ireland.Thinking of going to PhysCon this year? Worried about how to pay for it? Whether you’ll be the only chapter member attending PhysCon 2019, or your chapter is bringing the whole crew, this article provides best practices, fundraising ideas, and SPS National resources to help you start the fundraising process NOW! As a veteran of the 2012 and 2016 PhysCons, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes. As your chapter begins the fundraising journey, consider these suggestions and determine what mix of ideas works best for you. You can never think too outside the box when fundraising, so get creative and share your ideas with other chapters too! 

Best Practices

There are endless ideas for fundraising, and some will work better in different settings and situations. So talk to other nearby chapters or confer with your zone councilor or associate zone councilor for some additional inspiration. You can find contact information for your local zone councilor and associate zone councilor at

  • Start Now! With less than a year until PhysCon, you may already be behind on meeting your fundraising goal. Plan on holding at least one fundraising event per month (big or small) from now until November.
  • Talk to Your SPS Advisor. Your advisor may be your best resource. While this may be your first time planning for a large conference, your advisor has probably attended at least one in their lifetime. Even better, your advisor will be able to help you navigate the resources available through your department and school.
  • Set Goals. After talking with your chapter and advisor, you should have an idea of how many students plan to come to PhysCon and how much money you’ll need to raise. Set monthly goals and brainstorm fundraising events. Keep to the plan!
  • Investigate All Resources. You have so many opportunities to raise money for your chapter—the hardest part is finding time to act on all of them! 
  1.  See if your department can put forth or match any funds that you raise.
  2. Work with your school’s alumni department to see if there are any potential donors they could link you with.
  3. Reach out to local industry and tech companies to see if they would sponsor student travel.
  4. Keep an eye out and apply for SPS Travel and Reporter Awardsthis spring.

Simple Fundraising Ideas


Travel poster made by Eleanor Sayre of Kansas State University.

If you are just starting to fundraise for your chapter, here are a few simple but effective fundraising ideas.

  • Students often forget to eat during busy days. Take advantage of this and sell coffee and donuts or pizza and soda once a month or during exam weeks. Make sure you pick a high-traffic location and focus on class change times. Remember that inclusivity is an SPS value, so try to provide gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or vegan options.
  • Put on physics demo shows and sell tickets or ask for donations. This takes a bit more planning, but incorporating performance (such as a light show, music, jokes) will really help your outcome, especially when asking for donations. You can download easy, fun, and inexpensive demos from SPS at
  • Get professors to volunteer for “Pi a Professor” on Pi Day (March 14). Sell tickets on a per-throw basis and use whipped-cream-filled pie tins. You can maximize this event by also selling pies and holding a digits-of-pi recitation competition.

Large Impact Fundraising

Large impact fundraising events can be a great way to bring in huge resources, but they can be a bit more challenging to implement. These ideas often require a bit more finesse (or paperwork!) and require different steps than your normal fundraising events.

  • Request additional funds through student government – If your SPS chapter is an officially recognized club or organization at your school, you can often request funds annually or can request special allocation funds on a one-time basis. In either case, it is important to highlight why you and your peers attend PhysCon; it may even be beneficial to reach out to alumni for testimonials. With this process you should expect to fill out some forms, speak directly to the student government board, and maybe even give a presentation. Each school’s process is different, so be sure to find out the details as soon as possible. Use your advisor as a resource to help determine the best course of action for requesting these funds.
  • Work with your alumni department – If your school has an alumni office, stop by and discuss the opportunity for alumni to support student travel. Make sure to bring as much promotional PhysCon material, information about the conference and costs, and past attendee testimonials as possible. This will help you guide conversation and hopefully get a little more traction and assistance from the department. You can find promotional content for PhysCon at
  • Find local sponsors – If your school has a development or corporate partnership office, be sure to reach out to them and see if there are organizations that would be willing to sponsor your travel. If not, you may have to do a bit more legwork in reaching out and directly contacting local industry and tech companies, or even local restaurants and businesses that have a strong community presence. Again, talk to your advisor to see if they are in touch with any alumni who may be supportive.

The 2016 PhysCon Planning Committee checking out tour locations in San Francisco with the author front row center.  Pictured at Google X. Photo courtesy of Tracy Schwab.

SPS National is Here to Help!

You can find many of the tips mentioned, along with the top ten student fundraising tips, a travel cost calculator, and more, at Watch the website for Student Travel Award information in spring 2019!

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