MeetingsNet’s 2022 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2022 Changemakers list here.
CEO, Bravo! Events Board President, Live Events Coalition
Chair, Government Affairs, Live Events Coalition
For driving legislative action as well as self-recognition within the events industry that its interests must be represented over the long term
A few weeks after the Covid pandemic exploded in March 2020, Chicago-based events producer Isaac Rothwell spent an evening creating an online petition for Congress to assist the live-events industry, which had been completely shut down. Then he went to bed, thinking his small act would probably do nothing but make him feel a bit better.
However, that petition got 10,000 signatures almost overnight. Now, a bit more than two years later, two people stand out as the most high-profile representatives of what has grown from a petition into the Live Events Coalition, a recognized player in the halls of Congress that keeps the industry’s many small-business owners top of mind among lawmakers. Those two are Dwayne Thomas and Nancy Shaffer.
Thomas is the owner of Greenlight Creative, a lighting and production company in Portland, Ore. Since spring of 2020, however, he has become so well versed at lobbying—getting the attention of lawmakers by delivering research and compelling stories from small-business owners who work on events, then making specific proposals for funding—that he is well known among the staffs of Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, and others in Congress.
Thus far, the biggest result from LEC’s efforts is a bill that passed the House in April and is now before the Senate, one that would deliver tens of billions of dollars both to restaurants and to many of those small event-related businesses—which span more than 100 NAICS federal business classifications. This bill is in addition to proposals that LEC is helping to move through several state legislatures to help industry members recoup some of their pandemic losses and keep operating.
Alongside Dwayne Thomas is Nancy Shaffer, founder and CEO of Bravo! Events, who acts as the face of the coalition to those working in the events industry. “I make sure we continue to expand our membership because even though many of us are back to work, our industry’s fight will never be over,” she notes. “We’re reminding our industry colleagues that economic crashes are going to happen again at some point, so we must maintain a strong organization.”
“We never intended for LEC to simply be a pandemic project; we always intended it to be a long-term organization.,” she adds. “Honestly, it’s been way too hard developing our relationships in Congress and across all the different parts of our industry to ever give up. The restaurant industry has had an association lobbying for its interests for over 100 years. LEC is just two years old, but we’re making sure our industry will never be invisible again.”
Even more impressive is that LEC’s rapid progress has come solely from the work of volunteers who were given little chance of success by people who understand the lobbying game. “We were told that we would not survive, that we didn’t know what we were doing and to leave it to other organizations to take the lead,” Shaffer recalls. “And we’re still seen as the little kid in some quarters. But we weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer, and we turned out to be right: We were able to make things happen without big money behind us.”
That does not mean, however, that the change initiative led by Thomas and Shaffer has seen progress on a steady basis since mid-2020. Far from it, actually. Thomas’ realistic advice to others trying to implement change in their organizations: “There will not be a win every day; in fact, you are going to lose a lot. You just have to buckle up every day and be patient and determined and prepared for a long haul. Turn fear into fight and worry into work.”