Creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for charity

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Omaze, an online fundraising platform for charities offering chances to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences, was founded by Matthew Pohlson and Ryan Cummins in July 2012, in Los Angeles, California. The company has raised over $130 million to support the work of hundreds of charities around the world including UNICEF, the Jane Goodall Institute, International Refugee Assistance Project, World Vision, Water.Org and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“I knew after graduating from business school, I wanted to create a company that would impact the world and I passed up a job offer to pursue my passion. When you have $200 000 in debt and you turn down another job you are scared, but everything you want is on the other side of fear. At the same time, I knew so deeply in my heart this was something that is the best expression of what we could put out in the world,” says Pohlson.

Omaze has provided hundreds of celebrity experiences from meeting Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King at the Oprah Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Party, to shoe shopping with Sarah Jessica Parker and winning a one-of-a-kind Lamborghini blessed and signed by Pope Francis. Other experiences include joining George and Amal Clooney for a double date at their Lake Como home and fighting ghosts with Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson at the Ghostbusters 35th Anniversary Fan Fest.

The company started as an idea that Pohlson and Cummins had after they didn’t win a dream experience at a benefit for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Magic Johnson, renowned basketball player, was auctioning off the chance to have dinner with him and sit courtside at a Laker game, which they say was an awesome prize, but as the auction started and bidding quickly hit $15 000, Pohlson and Cummins could not afford to participate.

On the drive home, the entrepreneurs couldn’t stop talking about making this type of opportunity available online giving anyone the chance to win, which would encourage more people to participate, raising more money for nonprofits and Omaze was born. Omaze released its’ first sweepstakes in July 2012 with the winner becoming a judge on Cupcake Wars but only $748 was raised for charity.

In December 2015, the company partnered with Star Wars where people donated $10 to win the opportunity to visit the closed set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the experience raised more than $4.26 million to benefit UNICEF. Omaze is now a leading platform for individuals looking to make a difference and non-profits trying to raise major funding and is working to become the first for-profit company to give $1 billion to charity in a single year.

Pohlson says when other people kept saying no to their business idea, they just persisted through it and now the company launches regular campaigns offering a grand prize or experience allowing anyone to enter to win this prize for a $10 donation. They also offer T-shirts and autographed merchandise for sale as additional entries for the grand prize.

“If you feel like what you’re doing is serving others, that’s your fuel for persistence. My advice to entrepreneurs is be a best friend to yourself and recognize that no one knows what they are doing at the beginning. Try to get a little bit better every single day,” says Pohlson. VIDEO: Kristen Aldridge, founder of Original Stories Media, journalist, producer and storyteller, and presented by Cardone Ventures.

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