Incentives, Laughter, and Lifelong Bonds: My Journey with SITE and the Incentive Industry

David Riddell Scholarship Recipient

Each year, SITE Foundation proudly presents a few of its members with David Riddell Scholarships to support their Global Conference registration and attendance costs. 

Here is the original essay submission from Bonnie Coop, one of this year's recipients who will be joining us at Global Conference 2024 in Istanbul from February 26-29. 

by Bonnie Coop

Introducton: Of Laughter, Leadership, and Lifelong Lessons 

The incentive industry – it's a realm often associated with budgets, ROI calculations, and incentive programs. However, beneath the surface, it's a world filled with laughter, camaraderie, and heartwarming connections. My journey through this industry, particularly my association with SITE – Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, has not only shaped my career but also left an indelible mark on my life, family, and community. Join me on a quick exploration of the impact that the incentive industry and SITE have had on me, weaving together tales of leadership, friendships, and the incredible resilience of the human spirit. 

The Incentive Industry's Siren Call 

My story begins with a twist of fate. I stepped into the realm of meetings and events at the tender age of 18, a wide-eyed enthusiast eager to explore the world of event planning. Little did I know that this initial step would become the foundation of my lifelong adventure. 

Fast forward to 2014, when my local chapter was undergoing a renaissance of sorts, that I had my first encounter with SITE. The city was rebuilding, and I was drawn to the spirit of transformation. That year, I took the plunge and joined SITE and immediately joined the education committee. It was the beginning of a new chapter, one filled with laughter, learning, and countless memories. 

A Boardroom Comedy of Errors 

Five years into my SITE journey, I embarked on yet a new adventure, (because I had someone always saying join the board it’s easy (ha)) serving on the board of the SITE Chicago chapter. This year, I decided to take the leap and lead as the President of the Chicago chapter. Picture a room filled with strong-willed individuals, each with their unique quirks and personalities. Leading this group was like atemp􀆟ng to herd cats, but these cats were not your ordinary felines; they had the determination of lions and the wit of stand-up comedians. But with a hefty dose of determination and a touch of humor, I rallied this spirited bunch to collaborate, compromise, and catapult our chapter to new heights. 

My mission, should I choose to accept it (and I did), was to rally this group of remarkable individuals into a cohesive and dynamic board. Collaboration became my superpower, and humor, my armor. Diane, our spreadsheet guru, was convinced that color-coded budgets held the key to world domination. Rose, our resident op􀆟mist, believed that every challenge was merely a plot twist in our sitcom. Together, we embarked on the journey to transform our chapter into a powerhouse, one hilarious board meeting at a time. 

From Colleagues to Comrades-in-Arms 

But it wasn't just about board meetings and event planning. The most remarkable aspect of this journey was the people I met along the way. What began as a sea of unfamiliar faces at networking events soon evolved into a parade of colorful characters, each with their unique quirks. 

Colleen, our events maestro, could turn the most mundane room setup mishap into a comedy sketch. Alex, our detail-oriented perfeconist, believed that event planning was akin to solving a Rubik's Cube 

blindfolded – and she did it with unbridled enthusiasm. Together, we became a band of misfits, navigating through networking events, budget meetings, and brainstorming sessions. 

As the laughter echoed through these experiences, something magical happened. Colleagues and competitors soon transformed into comrades-in-arms, and the lines between work and friendship blurred. We shared coffee, stories, and a mutual disdain for PowerPoint transitions. In these moments of vulnerability and camaraderie, laughter became the universal language that bound us together. 

Laughter in the Face of Challenges 

Just when I thought my journey couldn't get any more eventful, 2020 arrived with a curveball named COVID-19. In-person events transformed into virtual soirées, complete with Zoom glitches, pixelated dance-offs, and surprise appearances by pets who clearly believed they were the show's stars. 

And then, life threw another challenge our way. My husband's battle with cancer cast a shadow over our lives, plunging us into a world of uncertainty and fear. It was during this trying time that the SITE community rallied around me like a fortress of support. 

Emails, messages, and virtual hugs poured in from fellow members, turning acquaintances into pillars of strength. These were the same people who had once shared event planning tips but were now sharing genuine concern and offering unwavering support. In my darkest moments, I realized that SITE wasn't just an association – it was a family, bound not by blood but by laughter, love, and shared experiences. 

Honors and Unexpected Triumphs 

As if my journey couldn't get any more whimsical, the incentive industry decided to throw in a few surprises. SITE continued to be my anchor, propelling my career to new heights. In 2020, I was honored with the prestigious "40 under 40" accolade – a 􀆟title that left me both humbled and amazed. 

But the pinnacle of the unexpected came in 2023 when I was bestowed being named SITE Chicago’s President and with the "Women in Mee􀆟ngs - Rising Star" award. At over 20 years in the industry, I couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of being called a "rising star." Yet, amidst the laughter and disbelief, there was a profound realization – the incentive industry and SITE had not only nurtured my growth but celebrated it in their own unique, witty way. 

Laughter, Love, and a Lasting Legacy 

As I reflect on this uproarious journey, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the incentive industry and SITE are not just about spreadsheets and budgets. They are about connections that transcend job titles, camaraderie that defies virtual boundaries, and laughter that weaves us into a fabric of support. From boardrooms to bonding, challenges to camaraderie, I have come to realize that this industry is not just a career path – it's a family. 

So, here's to the incentive industry, the SITE community, and the laughter that binds us all together. Here's to the misadventures, the memories, and the friendships that have transformed a professional journey into an unforgettable comedy that would put any sitcom to shame. As I raise my virtual glass to the impact of the incentive industry and SITE, I can't help but smile – because in the grand theater of life, there's no better script than the one written with laughter, resilience, and the unbreakable bonds of a shared journey. 

Additionally, as a buyer within our industry, I wish to express my deep appreciation for your thoughtful consideration of this scholarship opportunity. Its significance is monumental, as it could be the pivotal factor enabling my attendance, given the financial constraints I encounter in pursuing professional development. I firmly believe that my unwavering dedication and ongoing contributions to our industry are testament to my commitment to SITE and the advancement of our field.

Written by

Bonnie Coop

Bonnie Coop

Director of Meetings & Incentives


You might also like...


People, possibility, and opportunity: what matters to SITE Young Leaders right now

Four SITE Young leaders recently joined SITE President Kevin Edmunds on a SITE webinar to discuss what’s top of mind right now for millennial and Gen Z incentive professionals.

11 September 2023


Power of Partnerships – Mitigate climate risks with green event venues

In partnership with the team at Marina Bay Sands and BEAM

20 October 2021


Community Impact Program

Sponsored by Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

24 January 2023

Discover our Chapters

Chapters are the lifeblood of SITE, connecting members at local, national and regional levels. Find your local chapter and join our global community

Become a member of SITE

SITE offers a number of options and categories for individual and group membership. Find the one the best suits you and connect with the Business Events industry’s only association dedicated to incentive travel.