Laura Turner Seydel, chair of the environmental non-profit the Captain Planet Foundation, has no problem drawing big names to her annual gala.
But this year’s event at the Georgia Aquarium upped the ante: Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Airlines, former Pres. Jimmy Carter, as well as her father Ted Turner. She also managed to get the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa P. Jackson there.
With such big names, the gala sold out of its corporate sponsorships two months early and organizers had to turn people away for the first time. For the first time, Seydel said the fundraiser brought in more than $1 million.
The live and silent auctions alone drew $500,000. A week on Branson’s private island raised a whopping $195,000 during the live auction, with three people shelling out $65,000 each.
“We’re very pleased with the response we’ve gotten from sponsors and patrons,” Seydel said in an interview today. “They love it. The aquarium has such good karma. To have the big fish in the room and surrounded by water, it’s very feng shui.”
Captain Planet over the years has provided millions of dollars for environmental education programs for students.
In unusual presentation, the four big names sat with CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux on stage for 30 minutes to talk about energy policy, climate change and related topics.
Seydel was especially thrilled to have Jackson, the first African American to helm the EPA. “The environmental conservation movement is often accused of being a white elitist movement so it was good to have her there,” she said.
The group has wanted to award Carter in the past because he was considered the first “environmental” president who put solar panels on the White House. Her dad Ted helped get cohort Branson aboard, too.
Sarah Blakely, our local billionaire Spanx founder, came in second on the Fox reality show “The Rebel Billionaire” in 2004 and on stage, waxed nostalgic about her time on the show and marveled over Branson’s energy and vision. Despite the fact she didn’t win the show, he gave her $750,000 out of his own pocket to start her own foundation to support women in South Africa.
Among the attendees included CNN chief medical correspondent (and past Captain Planet winner) Sanjay Gupta and the Bert Show’s Jeff Dauler.