Sigma Pi Sigma Development

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Special Feature

Development and Fundraising

Sigma Pi Sigma Development

Connecting donors to student programs


Richee-Lori Smith, Chief Development Officer, American Institute of Physics

Sigma Pi Sigma Development, Connecting donors to student programs tree

I was recently approached by a student who thanked me for a scholarship he had received from Sigma Pi Sigma. This enthusiastic young man was thanking me for $2,500 that helped him return to school that fall and purchase books for class. Without this scholarship, he said, he would not have been able to do it. Even with the soaring cost of college tuition (in the tens of thousands!), a $2,500 award can have great impact. For this future leader, that scholarship, earned largely by his academic achievements, was the difference between educational success and not going back to school.

What made this scholarship possible? Your generous response to our appeals!

Call it fund-raising, advancement, or development . . . the goal is to raise money for a cause or mission that we care about and believe has societal value. Purposeful fundraising efforts partner donors with their chosen causes, transforming lives.

Since teaming up with Sigma Pi Sigma in 1968, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland, has been fully dedicated to the programs and services carried out by the honor society and the Society of Physics Students (SPS). To fund those programs—and projects at the Neils Bohr Library and Archives, as well as the Center for History of Physics—AIP recently established a dedicated Development Division. This division builds on a long history of development efforts within Sigma Pi Sigma in an attempt to increase its impact.

We target primarily individuals and private sector funding (nongovernmental funds). Our efforts provide a means for Sigma Pi Sigma members and friends to support the many programs and awards that benefit physics students, the majority of which are administered through the SPS National Office. Over the last decade, over $1.2 million in support for student programs has been gathered through different channels, including individual donations, bequests, corporate contributions, and special gifts (e.g., gifts of real estate and life insurance). Thank you!

AIP established a new Development Board in November 2011 to help expand fundraising efforts and to diversify the AIP Development funding portfolio. Under a different structure, this group is continuing and expanding the work done by members of previous Sigma Pi Sigma development committees. Aided by these enthusiastic volunteer leaders, AIP’s development professionals have been working diligently to explore and implement a variety of different approaches for marketing and communicating the needs of the student programs.

Many SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters rely on both internal and external funding sources  to bring science outreach activities to the public. Pictured here, a crowd gathers around the SPS table during Family Weekend at Rensselaer Polytechnic  Institute. Josue San Emeterio, the student team leader, explains the chaotic double pendulum to a young scientist. Photo by Kelsie Larson.Counting on the value of personal interactions and relationship building, we have hosted several receptions and events at the homes of Development Board members and other friends of the organizations. At these gatherings, we provide information and highlight the impact of student programs, scholarships, and awards. SPS student members have been present at all of these events; they have proven to be an effective way to showcase the impact of Sigma Pi Sigma donations. Donors (and potential donors) come away from their interactions with these students impressed and confident about the future of our scientific community.

In preparation for the most recent Sigma Pi Sigma Quadrennial Physics Congress in November 2012, we reached out to corporations. This initial effort brought onboard several new corporate and organization partners as sponsors and exhibitors for the event.

Another part of the fundraising effort for the 2012 Congress was a silent auction held at AIP in October 2012. Employees working at the American Center for Physics (which includes not only AIP but also the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine) contributed more than $6,000 at the event. That money helped to send several dozen students to the congress as student reporters. Those reporters documented their experiences at congress, providing a unique record of the meeting, which you can read online at

We are excited to build upon these successes as we now turn our attention toward the next congress, planned for November 2016 in San Francisco, CA. We expect this meeting to set another record as the largest meeting in history for physics undergraduates.

To raise AIP’s profile among members of the physics community, the development efforts are also focused on increasing outreach to the community. This is an effort to link donors to a cause that has inspired them and that has an invaluable impact not only on the scientific community, but the country as a whole.

In November 2012, AIP sent to all 120,000 Physics Today magazine subscribers a mailing that reintroduced AIP Physics Resources Center programs and highlighted student and history programs. We provided subscribers with an opportunity to show their support for these services and programs and gained many new donors!

In light of the trend toward a more electronic culture, we are continuing to evaluate our web presence and visibility and have launched a new development website, accessible through the AIP main page, with a “Donate Now” button. The website also includes a video, “One Science. Many Minds.,” aimed at emphasizing the unique and valuable work carried out by our student programs and history center. It features a few of our rising physics stars, as well as dedicated supporters speaking passionately about why they chose physics and the impact of physics on all of our lives. Please be sure to view it.

One of the most challenging aspects of fundraising within any community is educating potential donors about the impact of gifts of different sizes. People often wonder how a gift of $20, $50, or $100 measures up against the seven- or eight-figure gifts that we hear about in the news. Let me assure you that gifts of all sizes work collectively to make a huge impact in the lives of physics students!

One important program that benefits from these donations is the SPS Summer Intern program. Currently, SPS brings in 10–12 interns each summer for a life-changing experience. Participants in this program are selected from a national pool of highly qualified applicants and work in science outreach, education, communication, policy, and research. These opportunities are funded with support from AIP, individual donors, and the partnership organizations who host the interns. The Sigma Pi Sigma donor base can help ensure that this program continues to thrive and offer a variety of unique experiences for students.

SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma awards and scholarships serve to encourage students around the country who are working to complete their degrees. Several award programs are designed to recognize outstanding achievements or support unique ideas for local programs in the areas of outreach, research, and service. These awards have a far-reaching effect, often deep into local communities all across the country that are impacted by the student recipients. The number of awards and scholarships that can be bestowed each year is largely determined by the level of support achieved from our donor base.

I have dedicated my professional life to making connections between generous donors and the causes that inspire them. I take great joy in seeing the results of the opportunities that our team makes possible and the satisfaction of our donors. Albert Einstein once said, “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” With that philosophy, I think Einstein might have made a decent development officer!

I urge you to help us support the invaluable and transformational programs provided by Sigma Pi Sigma and SPS—whether through a personal or corporate donation or by connecting us to corporations and organizations with a vested interest in supporting students and the sciences.

Be a part of the equation and make an impact on tomorrow’s scientific leaders by giving today:

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