Whitefish Bay — At a time when schools are forced to do more with less, a Whitefish Bay entrepreneur has created software that she says will revolutionize the fundraising process for local schools.
Alana Platt first came up with the idea for Classmunity when she heard friends and relatives in the education sector complaining about the difficulty of fundraising.
Many times, students are carrying around envelopes stuffed with money, which heightens the odds of theft. Other times, a school district's name and logo are used to raise money for fake fundraisers by people who have no association with that school district. Thirdly, online campaigns are often difficult to organize, and even once they are launched, it is difficult to garner exposure.
Platt, who has a Ph.D. in computer science, is an assistant professor in UW-Whitewater's Department of Information Technology and Supply Chain Management. She decided to use her computer and business skills to crack the school fundraising problem.
'We're bringing modern financial technology to school fundraisers,' she said. 'We want to make getting the word out easier, faster and in ways they've never been able to before.'
Classmunity, built on the idea of bringing together classrooms and the community, has helped four school districts with in-person fundraising events and online campaigns. The secure website has customized microsites for each school district, allowing school districts to create multiple fundraising initiatives on their district's page.
The software platform allows teachers to set up their own fundraisers, walking them through every step of the process - from getting their school superintendent's approval to the transfer of funds to a bank account.
'The record for a teacher setting up a fundraising page is six minutes,' Platt said.
The platform also allows schools to accept recurring monthly donations - a concept that has not yet made its way to school fundraisers, Platt said.
The Classmunity team is currently in the process of developing an iPhone app that would allow credit card transactions to be processed by hand, through a card reader or through an optical reader in a smartphone camera lens. That means Boy Scout troops could process a credit card transaction on their iPhone before they leave your front porch. Platt hopes to have the app finished later this summer.
Classmunity was one of 13 finalists in the Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest, which began in January with 200 entries. Classmunity placed third in the information technology category. The contest gave startup businesses the chance to work with mentors and receive feedback from judges over the course of five months.
Classmunity has six team members, including UW-Whitewater entrepreneurship lecturer David Gee, her husband Levi Citrin, lead developer Alex Allen, business development manager Willow Macy and Elkhorn Area School District Superintendent Jason Tadlock - who joined the company after using the software in his school district.
Their advisor is former Whitefish Bay School District Superintendent Jim Rickabaugh - now the director of the Institute for Personalized Learning in CESA 1.
Classmunity takes 0 to 6 percent of the fundraising total, depending on the monthly card processing fee the school selects. For comparison, most crowdfunding sites take 6 to 11 percent of raised funds in addition to credit card processing fees.