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Digital Wish makes school fundraising easier


In the 2009-10 school year, Digital Wish helped put $5 million worth of technology into the hands of teachers.

Websites that let teachers post their classroom “wish lists” for donors to fulfill have been around for more than a decade, but now one of those sites—Digital Wish—has added a new fundraising feature that could help schools raise support from their local communities.

The fundraising feature allows for teachers and their supporters, such as administrators and Parent-Teacher Associations, to establish their own fund drives for their educational needs. Through Digital Wish, users can publish their event on social media websites and print customized fliers.

“We really wanted to give PTAs and PTOs better tools to help them fundraise online,” said Heather Chirtea, the site’s founder. “Schools don’t typically have the capacity to process credit card donations at their events. Now, they can make a giving page in a few minutes on Digital Wish and add online fundraising to every event. Our mission is to help solve technology shortfalls in American classrooms, and parents play a huge role in helping schools.”

Starting an online fundraiser is simple, Chirtea said. After signing up on the Digital Wish website, users can click “Start a Fundraiser” from the home page. By sharing the event with friends, family, and community members through social media, a fundraiser can grow with no set-up cost. Organizers can view progress and edit and manage details from a single web page.

Funds are deposited automatically in the beneficiary’s Digital Wish account for use in the educational technology shopping area at the end of the fundraiser.

The fundraising feature is one of the newest tools at Digital Wish, a site that allows teachers to create online lists of their classroom needs.

The site was formed when executive director Chirtea moved to a small town in Vermont. She appreciated the small class sizes in the tiny school that her 7-year-old twins were enrolled in. However, the school was on the verge of closure, with a lack of funding and equipment.

“I went in and I said, ‘Come on kids, let’s write letters to the community, and let’s see if we can get people to donate,'” Chirtea said. The results were astounding. The 62 students raised $20,000 to pay for a new science lab, playground, and nature trail.

“A lot of people said that they really wanted to help, but hadn’t known how until they received the letters from the kids,” said Chirtea. “I said, you know, let’s do this online. The internet is made for interfacing with the community,
let’s put together a website that lets teachers wish list and tell the community what we need.”

Chirtea created Digital Wish, which launched in July 2007. The company’s goal was to have 1,000 teachers post their wish lists by Christmas. They met that goal in 34 days.

“There was a lot of interest in teachers making these wish lists and posting them publicly,” said Chirtea.

In the 2009-10 school year, Digital Wish helped put $5 million worth of technology into the hands of teachers.

“We have 116,000 schools in the database, so we cover pretty much the entire United States,” Chirtea said. “We just granted our 25,000th wish to a teacher in the U.S.”

Digital Wish isn’t the only such site on the web. The most popular might be DonorsChoose.org, which reportedly has funneled $84 million in donations to schools across the country since its creation in 2000.

Digital Wish also has discounted offers for technology equipment that educators or education supporters can purchase directly from the website.

“When those wishes start to get granted, either a teacher will buy for themselves, the school will buy for the teacher, or the PTA will buy for the teacher because of the discounts we have up on the site,” said Chirtea.

In addition, Digital Wish provides teachers with a lesson plan database, which educators can contribute to.

“Every time a teacher submits a new lesson plan, we monitor [it]. If we see one that we think is really good, we put it up in the national library,” Chirtea said. The site’s national library currently contains more than 500 lesson plans, with far more in the individual school websites. Teachers are able to use any lesson plan they find interesting.

Digital Wish serves nonprofit institutions as well as public schools. To register, teachers need to have their school’s tax identification number.

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