By Roger Grody
What’s on your bucket list? Climbing Mount Everest, playing golf with your favorite PGA pro, or cooking with a celebrity chef? These are the kinds of fantasies available for purchase at a unique online marketplace called IfOnly, which offers unique, modestly priced experiences in addition to life-changing adventures priced in the millions. Because a portion of the proceeds fund charitable causes, your real-life fantasies are actually helping others.
Founded in 2012 by tech entrepreneur Trevor Traina (currently the U.S. Ambassador to Austria), IfOnly is the kind of marketplace that could only exist through technology, but is rooted in an old-fashioned philanthropy. The platform collaborates with more than 250 nonprofits and charitable organizations, from Ronald McDonald House to the American Red Cross, Farm Aid to Share Our Strength. Adventures range from the arts (e.g. a personalized tour of the Art Institute of Chicago) to adrenaline rushes (e.g. racing a Lamborghini), and represent all price points.
IfOnly’s Vice President of Marketing & Growth Katelyn Watson reports, “We first gained traction with celebrities discovering these experiences were a great way to build a deeper connection with their fan base while supporting charities dear to them,” and notes it expanded from there. “Those interested in backstage passes to a Shania Twain concert ($2,500, supporting the singer’s own foundation) are the same people looking for something really cool to do over the weekend,” says Watson.
She cites baking macarons with a French pastry chef ($95), a private tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright landmark ($25) or getting up-close and personal with an endangered red panda at the San Francisco Zoo ($325) as affordable adventures. “Most of the experiences on IfOnly are impossible to find anywhere else, because we curate them personally with the talent or luminaries involved,” says Watson. Recently offered were exclusive World Cup watching parties — $3,250 netting chauffeur service, a pair of Pantofola d’Oro Italian leather soccer shoes and the company of British soccer legend Kevin Keegan — with donations benefitting the James Beard Foundation.
At least 5 percent of the price for an experience goes to the designated charity, but Watson reports many celebrities donate 100 percent and that the average contribution is almost 50 percent, with a small amount retained by IfOnly for administrative and marketing costs. The San Francisco-based organization is currently active in seven major U.S. markets, but expansion to hundreds of cities internationally is planned. The ability to offer experiences at travel destinations favored by their customers is envisioned as IfOnly’s natural evolution.
The concept is particularly popular with millennials, says Watson, who explains, “They’re not used to traditional means of giving and tend to focus their time and money on unique experiences,” but adds, “They also like to give something back.” IfOnly has limitless applications in the corporate world, for teambuilding adventures, employee retention and gift programs, suggests Watson.
IfOnly’s partners are pleased with their participation. “We were looking to reach potential millennial donors through new technology and digital experiences, which made IfOnly an ideal partner,” reports Maia Raposo, communications and marketing director of Waterkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving clean, drinkable water. “We’ve collaborated on social media initiatives, media outreach, and other marketing opportunities, helping us to get our brand recognized by a wide audience,” she adds.