Omaze house draw: The top dogs (and cats) for charity fundraising
A chorus of mews and barks greets James Oakes as he enters the RSPCA’s Leybourne Animal Centre in Kent. The sanctuary specialises in bringing abandoned and sick pets back from the brink and the boss of for-profit fundraising company Omaze is visiting to announce a new donation model from his firm’s sensational million-pound house draws.
As it unveils its 21st incredible prize draw today – a stunning Somerset mansion – Omaze pledges to hand the RSPCA a guaranteed minimum of £1million, which will be spent financing frontline animal welfare officers in England and Wales.
As Chief International Officer, Oakes leads the team that launched the Omaze Million Pound House Draw in the UK in 2020. That first prize draw, in Manchester, raised an incredible £250,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
But it was only the start. In 2021, four house draws alone raised £2million, revealing just how enthusiastically the general public had embraced trying to win a dream house while supporting worthwhile charities.
So far, a staggering £22,250,000 has been raised for charities, topped up most recently thanks to £1.8millon for Breast Cancer from the 19th house draw in Scotland. Entries for the amazing Somerset house draw open today. And Omaze has guaranteed the RSPCA will get a donation of 17 per cent of the ticket sales, with a minimum total fund of £1million.
All of which brings us back to the Leybourne Animal Centre where Oakes is taken by a 13-week-old furball called Snow. When Snow arrived at the centre, she had a severe infection in her right eye, which had to be removed promptly to save her life.
Stroking the nervous kitten, the 46-year-old businessman says: “I am bowled over by her bravery. She has been to hell and back but look at her now, a lively bundle of fun, who is well on the road to recovery thanks to the care she’s getting round the clock.”
With that Snow jumps out of his arms onto the floor, pounces playfully on
her toys then darts joyfully around her clean and comfortable temporary home.
“I’ve never seen a kitten move so fast,” laughs Oakes as Snow plays hide and seek. “Her eye has healed wonderfully and she is set to have a good life if she can be adopted. Snow would make a marvellous pet for anyone who likes cats.” Next he meets Diesel, a three year old whose welfare needs were not being met by his owner.
He is timid, more reticent, perhaps learning to trust humans again. After severe neglect, all his teeth had to be removed and he suffers a range of medical problems, including a B12 vitamin deficiency and digestive problems.
“Diesel has complex needs and each one of them is being met here, which is incredible and shows the level of care being given to each animal individually,” says Oakes.
Animal Rescue Officer Emma Haines, 23, our guide today, lets Oakes take ten-year-old crossbreed dog Angel for a walk. Angel sniffs the ground like a puppy as Haines briefs him on his background.
“Angel was in a terrible state when we found him at a house where 14 very large dogs were being kept,” she says.
“The animals were not allowed out of the house, so you can imagine what the floor looked like. It was horrendous. Now he is happier and he just loves to be taken for a walk.”
Then she introduces Oakes to Isaac, a lurcher who had spent five years inside a property and had never worn a collar, never mind being taken for a walk.
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Free from his imprisonment, Isaac, too, has regained his health and confidence at RSPCA Leybourne, which currently cares for 47 cats, 32 dogs, seven guinea pigs, 26 rabbits and 12 small mammals, including abandoned pet rats.
Within seconds Isaac insists on sitting on Oakes’ lap. “You can tell he’s been deprived of attention for years but look how he picks up when you show him a bit of love,” says Oakes as Isaac licks his face.
“Isaac would make a wonderful companion for someone.”
During the tour, Haines gives us the chilling low down on the demands on the RSPCA in England and Wales.
“The last few years have taken a heavy toll on animals,” she says.
“The cost-of-living crisis is one of the single biggest challenges for animal welfare right now. We’re desperately concerned about the coming months.
“Abandonments have soared and many rescue centres like ours are full to bursting. Our rescue centres are set to be busier than ever at Christmas, so we need the help of our supporters.
“The £1million could pay for almost 40,000 hours of inspectorate officer time as they respond to rising numbers of abandoned animals and calls of neglect.”
Calls to the RSPCA are currently at a three-year high, she adds. Last year 1,098,000 people contacted the RSPCA’s emergency line – up 1.6 per cent on the previous year. And worryingly, since 2019, rehoming rates have fallen by 30 per cent, which means thousands fewer rescue pets are being adopted.
Between 2021 and 2022, the RSPCA saw a six per cent increase in the number of dogs taken into care and a four per cent increase in the number of cats.
While the economy stutters along, there is every indication that more pets will be abandoned in the coming months as families struggle to pay their bills, so the windfall from Omaze could not be arriving at a better or more vital time.
Brighton born entrepreneur Oakes studied economics at university before co-founding, in 2008, Roboreus, a lottery systems startup company which was bought by the ZEAL group in 2016. He stayed on and created ZEAL Ventures and later led the market acquisition of Lotto24, Germany’s largest lottery brokerage.
In 2017, he invested in Omaze, a US entertainment company which offered prizes of dinners out with A-lister Hollywood celebrities whilst raising money for good causes at the same time. Oakes tells the Daily Express: “Omaze is now taking a big step forward to make its product even better for its customers and charity partners.
“We’ve just committed to launching a new house every single month, meaning Omaze customers get double the opportunities to win life-changing prizes and we
can raise even more money for more charity partners.
“Also, we’re giving the charities the funding certainty that they crave by upping our guaranteed minimum donation from each draw by a factor of ten, from £100,000 to £1million from now on.
“That’s a guaranteed £1million – at no risk or cost – from each house.”
Omaze CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson says: “James is an exceptional leader. He has built Omaze UK from an idea into a fast-growing business that has an incredible impact on its charity partners.
“He is a visionary, operationally excellent, and inspiring to a team.
“That rare talent was evident when we first created the UK house plan over beers five years ago.”
Research carried out in April revealed charitable giving in the UK would decline by £279million this year, largely because of the cost-of-living crisis, which is why so many charities now want to partner with Omaze.
Oakes added: “Under this new model we are forecasting that, in 2024 alone, Omaze will raise more for charities than we have raised in the previous four years combined.”
RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood says: “Our first partnership last year raised an incredible £1million and we hope our second partnership will raise even more vital funds to help our dedicated officers reach animals in need.
“This provides us with greater certainty to be able to plan and allocate crucial funds to projects and services sooner.”
Oakes, who lives in Richmond, southwest London with his wife Margit and two sons, William, eight, and Ferdi, six, says: “Coming here and seeing the incredible work being done to help these animals recover from terrible suffering has been eye-opening.
“The RSPCA is a great partner and we’re delighted to help them in their important work. I’ve been blown away by the care here at RSPCA Leybourne and proud that this money will help this and other centres across England and Wales.”
- For more information on the Omaze Million Pound House Draw, Somerset, visit omaze.co.uk
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