Doris Day Teacher's pet

Last week my mother told me a story. She’s a K-8 principal, and she held a fundraiser by doing a night out at McDonald’s. All the families would eat there and a portion of the proceeds would go back to the school.

But McDonald’s required the teachers to be the ones making the meals and manning the cash register. So after a long day of work they were stuck spending four hours hot and sweaty cooking burgers. At the end of it, the school only got $350.

There’s a lot of indignities educators must face. Overcrowded classrooms, low salaries, rampant pink slips during recent budget cuts.

The fact that they don’t have enough supplies to do their jobs is up there in the indignity list. They have to buy a lot of their own supplies to work with their students. Or bake endless cupcakes for bake sale efforts.  Or work four hours at a McDonald’s to scrape together spare change for new gym equipment. Fundraising is not fun…the name lies.

Such fundraising activities are very familiar to most people who grew up in the public school system in America. With budget cuts, districts get hit hard and occasionally need other avenues of revenue to restock equipment and supplies.

As a result my interest was piqued when the company Altruistic Apps came across my desk. It’s using technology to try to help educators fundraise in less demeaning or time consuming ways. They built School Supporter, their first app, and released it this month.

Here’s how it works. A school gets parents, teachers and students to sign up for the app. When fifty percent of the school has joined, Altruistic Apps builds the app free of charge. It’s branded with the school’s name, mascot, logo, motto, the works. Then, the school principal or PTA members reach out to local businesses and ask them to sponsor the app. The fee? $1 per student at the school. So if a school has 500 students the business will pay $500. Half of that goes to the Altruistic Apps company for building the app, and the other half goes to the school.

In exchange, local businesses will be featured on the app. They can either offer up coupons to get people to come into the store, or if they’re a service provider like an orthodontist or realtor they can just have their store information.

It’s essentially the digitization of the school yearbook or local coupon model, where businesses pay for ad space. And because it’s digitized, that makes it much easier to scale, both by adding more businesses to individual apps — thus raising more money — and also by securing apps for schools across the country. It’s not the sexiest of technologies but it’s pragmatic and practical.

The co-founder of Altruistic Apps, Michael Barrett, came up with the idea after doing fundraising for schools in low-income Chicago neighborhoods. “I had a lot of conversations with principals about problems with money and lack of funding,” Barrett says. “I didn’t think it was right that teachers were spending their own money on classroom supplies.” He’s been working in education for twenty years, and created a popular anti-bullying program called Hero in the Hallway.

When I asked him how he was going to onboard schools to the app, he laughed. “I pretty much have every principal’s email address in the country because of the anti bullying stuff,” Barrett says. He’s already got 36 schools getting parents to preregister for the program.

A lot of frivolous apps come my way, from one that lets you track your sexual athleticism to another that acts as a ‘fun’ will. It’s nice when the digital revolution that’s transforming the world can benefit those in need.