Adventures tend to be exactly as memorable as the people you share them with - whether that means friends, a tour group, or Mexican President Vicente Fox. This is the chief principle and the appeal of Omaze.com, a charitable platform that raffles off once-in-a-lifetime experiences with celebrities in order to raise money for various worthy causes. And these events aren't limited to green room conversations with Linkin Park (though that is an option): Omaze sends groups of givers into paintball battles against Navy Seals, on whiskey tastings with 'Justified' star Timothy Olyphant, and, this week, along with 'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston for his show's season premiere.
"We have a dialogue with celebrities about what they can offer that will be truly once in a lifetime." says Omaze co-founder Ryan Cummins. "Too often, they are just used to doing meet and greets."
An example of a unique experience: Playing 'Risk' with retired four-star general Anthony Zinni, formerly the deputy commander in chief at U.S. Central Command. The winner of that raffle, a military history buff from Boston, squared off against the two-time winner of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal while chatting about global strategy. This was before another Omaze user was invited to play 'Battleship' against Admiral Mike Mullen. Proceeds from the raffles for these experiences went to Team Rubicon and The Mission Continues, two organizations devoted to helping former military personnel make a difference in at-risk communities. Nothing to scoff at.
If the experiences are the bun and charity is the meat, Omaze's secret sauce is its raffle system, which was designed by a group of Irish academics. Raffle entries can be purchased individually or in bulk – some winners spend $5 and some spend $5,000 – and are selected at random. Cummins says this sweepstakes process generates more money for charities while leveraging fame for a greater good. Omaze, which is not itself a charitable organization, takes 20 percent of the proceeds, a situation its founders hope will change as the site grows and other revenue streams avail themselves.
In the meantime, the system is largely built on the web of connections between celebrities and charitable organizations, many of which increasingly rely on fame to gin up donations.
"Omaze allows famous people to engage with their fans in a way that they haven't before and they like that they're generating both revenue and awareness," says co-founder Matt Pohlson. "On the other side of the equation, we're gravitating toward this populist idea of empowering micro-donors."
Empowered or not, the chance to hang out at Paddy's Pub with the cast of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' is easier to get excited about than begging for sponsors for your next 5K. Driving with Walter White – well, Cranston is a bit chummier – to the final series premiere of one of television's grittiest dramas? Sounds great. Doing so knowing that you've helped support someone in need? Even better.