Brandon Marshall, wide receiver for the New York Jets, poses for a picture with Daniel Lewis, an Omaze contest winner.
Creating contests for causes
01:31 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Omaze creates unique experiences with celebrities to raise money for charities

Anyone can donate $10 for the chance to win

80% of the net proceeds goes to the causes

Los Angeles CNN  — 

Want to hang out with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Hollywood? Have John Legend sing at your wedding? Or be in the next “Star Trek” movie?

A start-up in Los Angeles is creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences to raise money for various causes.

The company called Omaze is the brainchild of Ryan Cummins and Matthew Pohlson, two former filmmakers.

“Our passion was always, ‘How do you use storytelling to inspire?’” Pohlson said. “We realized we were creating a lot of awareness around our work but not necessarily a lot of impact. We had to figure out a better model to do what we were passionate about so we decided to go to business school.”

Cummins and Pohlson were inspired to start the company after attending a charity gala. The auction included the chance to spend a dream day with Magic Johnson, but as students they could only afford to bid $50. The experience sold for $15,000.

“That’s when the idea hit us,” Cummins said.

They turned their dream into reality and launched Omaze in 2012.

“We make it so that anybody in the world can donate $10 for the chance to win, and as a result, it raises significantly more money for the charity,” Pohlson said.

The company works with celebrities to create the experiences and promotes them through original videos posted on the company website and on social media.

“Our fundraising only exists because of social media, because of YouTube,” Pohlson said.

A video to promote an experience with Arnold Schwarzenegger received close to 25 million views.

“We put him on Hollywood Boulevard and had him dress up as ‘The Terminator’ and walk into Madame Tussauds [wax museum],” Pohlson said. “It helped generate $1.15 million for After-School All-Stars.”

Since 2012, Omaze has worked with more than 100 nonprofit organizations and received donations from more than 160 countries, the founders said.

“We push 80% of the net proceeds on to the cause,” Cummins said.

In September, Daniel Lewis won an experience with Brandon Marshall, wide receiver for the New York Jets. Lewis won the contest with a $25 donation. He flew from Canada to MetLife Stadium, threw the football around with Marshall and received two tickets to the game.

“It was so amazing,” Lewis said. “I brought my son, Carter, with me on the experience. I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather have with me to share this.”

The experience benefited Project 375, a nonprofit Marshall founded with his wife, Michi, to help eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“The foundation is so personal to me,” Marshall said. “I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. … I was really concerned because I didn’t know how many people were out there suffering and going through life like everything was OK when it wasn’t.”

“People will use their platform, use their reach to do good,” Pohlson said. “That’s what he’s doing, and that’s the whole reason we exist.”

Along with creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences, the founders want to expand the company into a cause marketplace.

“Our goal is building a charitable giving platform so that we can provide tools and services to all causes around the U.S. and internationally,” Cummins said. “If we can leverage the power of storytelling and technology to transform lives then we’ve won.”