Omaze - Minimal benefit to cause and misleading marketing of the effect a donation has on your chances of actually winning the prize
There seems to be enough information out there with even a cursory online search to make it highly unlikely that Omaze is a total con in terms of actually running contests and having legitimate winners. To me, however, it's debatable whether Omaze - a private for-profit business - is truly motivated by the desire to raise funds for worthy causes or just running a sweepstakes contest business and using the charity angle to:
a) rope in unwitting celebrities for some image burnishing
b) lure people who, having a realistic understanding of the odds would ordinarily only enter a contest to win a prize if it was free, to make the jump and also pay money for additional chances to win.
Regardless, if you are thinking of donating to one of Omaze's campaigns to support a cause or just to win an attractive prize there are a couple of things one should be aware of.
First of all, only $1.50 out of every $10 donated typically goes to the cause allegedly being supported.
Omaze does not try to hide this, it's fairly obviously stated in the contest rules at the bottom if you bother to read them but 15% is a pretty low rate of flow through. If your primary motivation is to support a particular charity there are likely far more effective ways of giving that will see more of your dollar go to work for that cause. I'm guessing though that the vast majority of people entering Omaze contests are motivated primarily by the prize itself and the charitable add on functions largely to provide the warm and fuzzy virtue self-confirmation reward you can expect in order to get you over the line and paying for more chances to win that which you covet.
Every contest clearly allows one to submit an entry for free, which should be no problem but is probably a legal necessity to distinguish it from outright gambling or lotteries. Donations though, are touted as a way to obtain additional entries to win, for example (when it comes to physical prizes rather than experiences) a $100 donation will give you 2000 additional entries.
If you are really really motivated to win that prize and have decided to significantly boost your chances with a donation there's something you really ought to know but that isn't made clear unless you click all the way through to the Official Sweepstakes Rules on another webpage.
Copied and pasted here from the Omaze website:
Equality matters to us at Omaze: we use a system so that entries are treated equally. Each free entry is automatically assigned 2,000 entries (equivalent to the donation entries you get when you donate $100).
That's right, in this example if you used the free entry plus you donated $100 thinking you increased your chances of winning by 2000 times over those who didn't donate you're a chump. Every one of the likely thousands of people that entered without ever donating a cent has 2000 entries versus your 4000. You increased your odds of winning over the freeloaders by two not two thousand.
Maybe some sort of weighting is totally reasonable to ensure less financially advantaged folks have at least a chance of winning a prize too, not arguing against that.
What's not OK is to bury that fact and the extent to which it seriously dilutes the actual effect of those extra entries you paid for deep in the small print another mouse click away instead of transparently disclosing it on the actual contest page where donations are solicited.
My personal opinion is there can be no other conclusion than Omaze intentionally creates a misleading inference on their contest pages - that donating vastly increases your chances of winning - in order to sucker you and your resulting false assumption to pony up and donate more. That, clearly is a con.
User's recommendation: If you are motivated primarily to support the cause use an alternate channel that ensures more than 15% of your donation actually goes to the charity. If you want to increase your odds of winning the contest make sure you clearly understand how a donation improves your chances and don't fall for the misleading hype.
Location: Edmonton, Alberta