A Behind the Scenes Look At the Connect to Protect Gala
We sat down with Hunter Kinney, Asst. Director of Marketing, Fundraising, & Development for DPMMR, to find out how a dolphin trainer turned into an event planner and what happens behind the scenes for months leading up to DPMMR’s annual Connect to Protect Gala.
The Connect to Protect Gala is coming up soon. It’s the first event since the pandemic started. Are you excited, apprehensive, overwhelmed? How are you feeling leading up to the event?
H: Honestly, I am feeling totally calm and ready for this year’s event. Of course that could change at any moment – but I think I’ve learned over the past couple of years that everything always works out, so the stress levels and pressure I normally put on myself are much lower going into this event. This is also my third Gala with DPMMR and I have an incredible team of people working to make the event a success.
As far as excited – I’m not even sure that is the correct word for what I am feeling. I love seeing this event come to life and how much fun everyone has at the Gala, so I am beyond excited for this year’s event!
This year’s theme is Colorful Connections. What does that mean, where did it come from, and how is your team integrating the theme into this year’s event?
H: The two years we did the Gala we had a “design” theme to help guide the graphics and décor of the event. This year’s event is actually the first year that our “theme” reaches beyond the colors on a paper and ties directly to the fundraising effort at hand.
Our motto at DPMMR is “Connect to Protect” and we always place a lot of emphasis on the “Protect” part of our mission, especially from a fundraising framework. This year, we wanted to really highlight what the word “Connect” means to our organization. Every day at our headquarters we are connecting the public with marine conservation. Furthermore, our community is made up of connections that if we didn’t have, we wouldn’t be able to fulfill our mission out in the field. Finally, although important fundraising takes place at the Gala, the event is a way for us as an organization to connect with our biggest supporters and for our supporters to connect with our mission. Ultimately – this year’s theme is all about facilitating and maintaining connections of all different sorts or “colors” in a way which helps protect the animals we all love.
And how is this theme coming alive to create a unique event in comparison to previous galas?
H: Well from a design perspective, you’ll notice our theme is extremely colorful and is made up of lines connecting together to create some cool visuals. So I guess guests can expect a colorful experience from a design and lighting perspective. As far as the program line-up, we have put an emphasis on facilitating networking opportunities with our team and fellow attendees. From adding lounge spaces to providing entertainment in multiple locations at the event, we’re hoping to foster connections with this year's event.
When you are planning these events, what elements influence your planning process the most?
H: After our last event, one of the attendees said that our Gala was the perfect blend of formal and personable. The guest described how they loved being able to dress up and that the experience felt very elevated, but at the same time they felt like they were just hanging out with friends at a backyard BBQ. Creating this atmosphere where guests can have an elegant evening without feeling pressure to be too formal or not “let their hair down” is of upmost importance to me. So with every decision, I always reflect back on “How does this decision support or detract from the “vibe” we are aiming for.” It’s very important to our team that we don’t lose that vibe.
How do you think the “vibe” will be different since the Gala is at a new venue?
H: Honestly, I think the vibe is going to be even more of a celebration. The colors in the theme combined with our messaging and program line up this year are all up-beat and fun, and I think that will translate to the vibe. Playa Largo has such a beautiful space and it is allowing us to spice things up a little bit. Honestly, I think this years event is going to have the same small town vibe, just elevated to be more upbeat and excitable than before.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s event specifically?
H: Everything. Just kidding – I know that is cheating, but I am not sure I can pick. I’ll share my top 3 things I am most looking forward to.
First, I am excited this year to be raising money for our Connect center and facility headquarters. Historically, we’re raising money for our rescue mission, but with the pandemic, our approach to rescue has had to change a little bit. We still have all of the money we raised before sat aside for a future hospital, but this year, we wanted to focus on something that is tangible, already in our hands, and where the funds can have immediate impact. With that in mind, we’re crafting our fundraising story around the needs of the 7 dolphins that we permanently care for, improving education initiatives and increasing the number of guests who turn to us to learn about conservation, and capacity building efforts for improving mission effectiveness. Although we wouldn’t normally take this approach – I’m looking forward to presenting this narrative to our supporters and being able to showcase almost immediately the impact they are having. Ultimately – this is why we do what we do and why all the hard work is worth it, so that has to be in my top 3 list of things I’m excited about.
I’m also excited about some of the music talents that are going to be performing. We’ve tried to step outside of our box and line up some talent that will be fresh and new for our Gala attendees. Personally, I love music. So I’m looking forward to hearing some of the artists play for our guests.
Number 3…. Hmmm….. I’m hesitant to say this one because we are still working on the logistics, but we are trying to create a dessert experience instead of just a plated dessert. If that works out, it will definitely make my top 3 list.
Sounds delicious. Where can people go to learn more about the Gala or get their tickets.
The gala website www.dpmmr.org/gala has pretty much all of the information anyone could need, but my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone that has any specific questions can email me and I promise to get back to them as soon as I can. But for sure the website has the best and most up-to-date information.
Is there anything else you want people to know about the 2022 Connect to Protect Gala.
I would say that if you’ve attended one of our previous galas and enjoyed your time, it’s definitely worth attending this year’s event. We are still having an open bar, silent auction, a plated dinner – everything that people have come to love and expect at our gala. But we are also elevating the experience wherever we can. Also – we try to steer away from long speeches or programs and get straight to the dancing, so maybe bring a pair of dancing shoes (haha).
The 2022 Connect to Protect Gala is being held at Playa Largo Resort on May 7, 2022. The event – which raises important funds for marine mammal care, conservation, research, and education efforts – is an all-inclusive event and includes an open bar and plated dinner. Tickets, VIP Membership Tickets, and Sponsorship Tables are all available at www.dpmmr.org/gala or by contacting DPMMR directly.