Minnesota sports stars leverage fan experiences to raise philanthropic dollars

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A calendar filled with charity galas and golf tournaments was quickly erased in 2020 for Minnesota sports stars Kyle Rudolph and Jason Zucker.

That year, the two athletes and their philanthropic partners Jon Walburg and Joel Kunza aimed to raise $500,000 for children in need through the nonprofit organization Athletes for MN Kids. But the pandemic cut short that goal and forced the four men to take a closer look at their approach to charity fundraising.

Drawing on Rudolph and Zucker’s relationships with athletes and celebrities, alltroo was born, a raffle company that offers prizes in the form of experiences like a all-expenses-paid trip to attend a Boston Bruins game and dine with Charlie Coyle or front row seats for the Garth Brooks Notre Dame concert, an autographed guitar, and a campus tour by Rudolph himself.

“Whether you’re a gamer with a foundation or a famous artist and have a cause you’re passionate about, we (Alltroo) can be a platform that then empowers you to use your platform and followers to raise a pile of money with little to no overhead,” said Rudolph, a former Viking from Minnesota.

While raffles are far from new, Rudolph and Zucker’s star-studded network is attracting millions of fans. Alltroo is a company where star power meets the business of philanthropy. With social media, an Instagram post by Garth Brooks can make $10,000 in a day, so a number of Brooks matches. Twin Cities entrepreneurs Walburg and Kunza bring their business acumen to create a platform that facilitates this process.

But how did this unlikely quartet come to co-found this new startup?

A chance encounter

Walburg was a “random guy” met by Rudolph during a robbery.

The former Vikings tight end was on a flight from John Wayne Airport to Minnesota after a trip to Newport Beach to celebrate his friend Jason Zucker’s first wedding anniversary. Little did he know that Walburg had also sat next to him on the flight home from Zucker’s wedding a year prior.

“Everyone was bugging her so I didn’t say a word,” Walburg said with a smirk of their first flight together.

But, since fate had placed them in the same adjacent seats two years in a row, Walburg mustered up the courage to strike up a conversation with Rudolph the second time around. He knew his pal Joel Kunza had been in the same charity golf tournament as Rudolph, so they discussed it. As the plane landed, Walburg told Rudolph that he and Kunza had room for a fourth at Hazeltine National Golf Club next weekend.

To Walburg’s surprise, Rudolph agreed to join them.

“So we drive to Hazeltine and we’re like, ‘There’s no way this guy is showing up.’ We walk in and Kyle is having breakfast,” Walburg said.

By the fourth hole, the three men were halfway through planning a charity golf tournament.

That meeting led to the launch of Athletes For MN Kids, a pre-pandemic venture that in its first event in 2019 raised over $100,000 for the Masonic Children’s Hospital at the University of Minnesota. Soon Jason Zucker, a former Minnesota Wild player, also jumped on board.

As professional athletes, Zucker says he and Rudolph have a platform thanks to their fans.

“It’s a platform we want to use for good,” Zucker said.

Zucker also credits his wife, Carly, for being a partner who pushes to give back more in a creative way, noting that they first partnered with Rudolph, Walburg and Kunza through their #Give16 campaign, which raised over $1.2 million for the Masonic Children’s Hospital at the University of Minnesota.

The creation of Alltroo

In their work through Athletes For MN Kids, the four men attempted to carve out a niche in the world of charity golf tournaments by being “very exclusive,” said Kunza, co-founder of Alltroo.

While many tournaments charge around $500 for a foursome, they were charging $10,000. With groups entering at $10,000 each, they could raise $100,000 in a single event after accounting for overhead.

When these types of exclusive events were no longer possible during Covid, they had to pivot.

“We looked at what we could do to just change things up and make things more accessible because at $10,000 per foursome you can imagine not everyone can participate even if they wanted to help the charity. “Kunza said. “It’s very exclusive with this award.”

This is how they landed on the coin toss model.

Instead of trying to charge 30 people $10,000, they could get 30,000 people entering $10 at a time. This model also eliminated the overhead associated with events like a golf tournament or gala.

The typical contest will last 90 days and is open to all residents of the United States and Canada, excluding Quebec. There is only one winner. Entering with a $10 donation can get someone up to 80 contest entries and entries are 100% tax deductible.

The winner and one guest receive an all-expenses-paid package that includes travel, accommodations and event tickets. The experience also involves meeting the sponsoring athlete or celebrity.

How they’ve done so far

Through Rudolph and Zucker’s celebrity network, they can reach big names, including, most recently, Garth Brooks, a man Rudolph says he always looked up to.

A partnership with the country music legend brings with it Brooks’ 1.7 million fans on Instagram, plus an additional 5 million on Facebook and half a million on Twitter. It’s basically free advertising.

The power of this network could be seen on Tuesday, when Garth Brooks posted a video on his instagram page, directing its subscribers to the Alltroo site. In one day, just under $10,000 was raised for charities for eligible youth in the South Bend, Indiana area. Altroo’s previous single-day high was $5,457.

The Garth contest has only been online for a week and has raised $18,223 with 653 total entrants. Alltroo’s goal for Garth is to raise $40,000 by April 28, when the contest ends.

The raffle model allows people to give what they can afford, while their donation is often matched by their favorite celebrity, Rudolph said. “We believe Alltroo has the opportunity to try and leverage all of our charitable donations and all the work we have done over the past three years, grow exponentially and have a much greater impact. on more than one organization.”

Alltroo raised $75,000 in its first seven months after launching in mid-2022. Since February, he has raised an additional $75,000. With this momentum, the founders say they hope to raise $1 million within the year.

Alltroo’s marketing coordinator is the company’s only full-time salaried employee. Over the summer, they hope to hire an “experience coordinator” to help plan winner experiences and ensure they run smoothly from start to finish for both winners and celebrities. They also hope to hire a project manager to work on operations and a web developer.

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