Never doubt the value of the celebrity connection when it comes to charitable fundraising. Even in this age of over-exposure, star power sells.
And it sells big. We common folks just can't get enough of the anointed ones.
In Orange County last week, the largest celebrity-studded fundraiser of the year unfolded on the expansive cliffside grounds of the Cahill estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Some 400 guests, eager to dine with special guest of the night, Leonardo Di Caprio, arrived in support of Oceana, an international organization dedicated to the protection of the oceans.
The annual fundraising dinner, in its seventh year at the Cahill mansion, brought in excess of $1.4 million in donations. The impressive tally was due in great part to the Hollywood connection. Not only did Di Caprio make his support well known, the party also welcomed a host of returning stars including Ted Danson, Dennis Hayshert,
Cellphone cameras flashed, autographs were signed, and Orange County patrons paying $2,500 and more to dine with stars cozied up next to their celluloid idols to share a moment of glory in the spotlight.
The energy was infectious, and it translated into big bucks during the auction. Most charity auctions have difficulty getting the bidding into the stratosphere. Folks can be generous for a worthy cause, but the O.C. crowd does not often go over the top, preferring to be a bit more discreet. Not so on this night.
Bidding for most items began at $5,000 and jumped to $10,000, $20,000 — up to $175,000 for a voyage on Hemisphere, the world's largest catamaran yacht. The trip was purchased by Di Caprio, along with an expedition to the Galapagos.
In all, Di Caprio donated more than $200,000 to Oceana before stepping onstage to address the crowd. Event organizers made it known that the actor's foundation had also given a $3 million grant to Oceana earlier in the year.
"Allow me to get straight to the point," Di Caprio said. "I truly believe that saving our oceans is the most important struggle of our time. We have an obligation to protect our planet and all of the species that inhabit it."
Celeb sizzle aside, the move to protect the earth's ocean environment cannot be taken lightly. It is estimated that some 1 billion people daily are fed by ocean resources. Oceana advocates, including CEO Andrew Sharpless, who flew in from the East Coast to address the California crowd, made it clear that being an environmental advocate protecting the ocean does not mean that one is essentially against free enterprise, fishing in particular.
Rather, Sharpless pointed out that specific successful conservation practices are estimated to increase the production of ocean life by as much as 40%, thereby improving the business of ocean fishing as well as helping to provide food for an ever-expanding population.
Ocean's California campaign director, Geoff Shester, said the group has tried to stem the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and throwing the creatures back in the water to die by suffocation.
"We have helped to ban the sale and trade of shark fins in California, Oregon and Washington," he said. "Our vision is a California brimming with ocean life that can provide food and jobs for California."
The massive event was chaired with style by Valarie Van Cleave and Eve Kornyei Ruffatto, both named Orange County Charitable Event Chairs of the Year in 2013 for their service to Oceana. The party was organized and executed with military precision from arrivals to cocktails, dinner and after-party dancing and entertainment.
The Cahill ocean-view lawn was set with tables dressed in blue satin cloths centered with floral designs created to look like ocean flora in colors of coral and crème, blue and a touch of magenta.
Sponsorship for the event was bold. BMWi served as a presenting sponsor exhibiting two of its latest cars in the Cahill entry courtyard. One was offered for auction and sold amid furious bidding.
Other generous corporate donors included South Coast Plaza, represented at the event by Anton and Jennifer Segerstrom. Also on hand were Bloomingdale's Fashion Island, Kettle One Partners and Nolet Spirits. Lugano Diamonds was represented by the elegant couple Idit and Moti Ferder, with Idit dazzling in a diamond bracelet and matching drop earrings created to resemble interlocking leaves.
Society stand-outs in the crowd included Tricia and Michael Burns, Cindy and Steve Fry, Harriet and Sandy Sandhu, Julie and Peter Hill, Wendy and Rich Aversano, Deborah and Larry Bridges, Jean and Tim Weiss, Britt and Robert Meyer, and Maralou and Jerry Harrington. Major underwriting came from the Harriet E. Pfleger Foundation.
To learn more about the work of Oceana, visit http://www.oceana.org.