The Cinema Foundation (the “Foundation”) is a California nonprofit corporation formed as an IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization. Creation of the Foundation was initiated by the board of the National Association of Theatre Owners, a New York nonprofit corporation recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(6) trade association (“NATO”). At the core, both organizations share NATO’s mission of “advancing the moviegoing experience,” but the Foundation expands on that mission “….by developing future diverse workforces and moviegoing communities through research, education, and philanthropy.”
The Foundation will initially focus on executing research, programs and partnership in five key areas: (1) Careers, Education & Diversity; (2) Industry Promotion & Creative Community Outreach; (3) Center for Innovation & Technology; (4) Data & Research; and (5) Charitable Giving. We hope to have an annual operating budget in excess of $4 million, which will enable the Foundation to contribute a significant amount of necessary research and education to promote the industry.
For more on our plans, review our initial Business Plan.
NATO was responsible for the massive effort to gain SVOG funding for the non-publicly traded theaters in the US. This amounted to $2.7 billion in direct payments to theaters. This was extremely helpful in saving the short-term cinema industry, but many receiving funds felt that the industry faced a long term challenge. It was suggested by some members of the industry that some of these funds could be used to create a new non-profit organization to address the long term challenges for the industry. The new non-profit had to include more than just NATO and its members in order to be successful but would still need to rely on the generosity of NATO’s members that received SVOG assistance in order to have sufficient seed funding to be immediately viable.
NATO was formed as a 501(c)(6) trade association, which is a type of tax-exempt status that allows for lobbying. As a trade association, NATO membership is necessarily limited to movie theater companies, which allows us to effectively lobby governments and studios on issues of shared concerns.
But the movie theater industry includes more than movie theaters. This industry is also made up of key partners including film bookers, filmmakers, studios, content providers, equipment and concession manufacturers, data and technology companies and more who depend on the strength of theatrical exhibition and the communities we serve. The Cinema Foundation offers an opportunity for all of the industry to come together to create programs that will—to borrow from NATO’s mission—promote the essential exhibition industry.
Contributions to NATO are not tax-deductible as a charitable deduction, but rather as a dues payment. Further, NATO membership/participation is limited to movie theater owners and operators.
As a separate 501(c)(3) the Foundation opens up more opportunities for active volunteer participation from all stakeholders in the exhibition community. Further, the tax status expands the ability for governments, businesses, and other foundations/nonprofits to support the work of the Foundation.
The Foundation will focus on non-lobbying activities in support of the mission, such as emergency relief funds, education and community programming, employee training and support, economic development initiatives especially in opportunity zones, underserved communities and to support both organization’s efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector.
No. However, the Cinema Foundation is a “supporting organization” to NATO. The Foundation supports NATO’s critical work, expanding NATO’s impact and ability to serve the whole industry.
The Cinema Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) supporting organization to NATO. This is an IRS designation that means that the Foundation essentially “borrows” its tax exemption by supporting the mission of another tax-exempt entity (NATO). In order to meet the IRS requirements, there must be some level of control from NATO. Specifically, NATO’s Executive Board appoints the board of the Foundation.
Further, the Foundation also shares staff with the Foundation (including President Jackie Brenneman who is also an officer of NATO), allowing the Foundation and NATO to save costs and begin operating immediately.
The Foundation is an otherwise independent entity with its own board of directors who are responsible for budget and operational decisions of the Foundation. While the Foundation must ensure that it is furthering NATO’s mission of “advancing the moviegoing experience,” it is not limited by NATO’s membership structure and therefore has a board of seven members representing multiple sectors of the industry including exhibition, technology, and suppliers. As the board and key committees grow, it will be critical to maintain a diversity of volunteers from across the industry to ensure that the Foundation is broadly supporting the industry as a whole.
The Foundation depends on collaboration from all sectors of the industry to expand the reach of NATO’s mission, diversify funding, foster innovation and grow volunteer leadership. By bringing together various sectors of this industry in a well-funded and fully-staffed organization we can not only facilitate important conversations and ideas-but act on them.
There are a number of reasons a separate 501(c)(3) organization is a more effective mechanism for maximizing impact across each of the Foundation’s priorities. As described elsewhere in this document, NATO as a 501(c)(6) trade association is necessarily limited in its membership to movie theater owners and operators. This allows NATO to be effective in lobbying governments and other stakeholder partners. However, the membership structure prevents NATO and the broader industry from collaboratively investing in initiatives more directly, and NATO’s financial and staffing resources are necessarily primarily dedicated to the key areas of NATO’s strategic plan.
Aside from those NATO-specific reasons, the structure of a well-resourced, fully-staffed independent charitable foundation with a broad set of volunteers and donors will allow the Foundation to be more impactful in each of its key priority areas, and expand. Below are just a few examples of how this structure increases our ability to raise funds and expand our impact:
- Cinema Careers, Education & Diversity: A 501(c)(3) can get grants from federal, state and/or local governments for recruitment and training programs. This not only will allow exhibitors to benefit directly from government partnerships but will also improve relationships with government officials. There are also a number of other Foundations that can partner with The Cinema Foundation on initiatives in this sector but who would not be able to assist if we were not a 501(c)(3).
- Industry Promotion & Creative Community Outreach: A 501(c)(3) Foundation is able to better access funding/in-kind donations of media for any industry promotion campaign (including a recruitment campaign). Further, talent is much more likely to publicly support initiatives that are more social (diversity, culture etc) rather than the more commercial interests of a trade body. The Foundation also allows key members of the creative community to be official supporters of the Foundation and its mission via a creative community advisory board.
- Center for Innovation & Technology: An open nonprofit Foundation will be able to create think tanks that truly represent the full breadth of the key stakeholders and thought leaders from within and outside the industry. As a 501(c)(3) we can also solicit donations from a wider set of donors to ensure that the Center is sufficiently funded to make a difference in this industry. Further, this all-industry structure allows content creators, distributors, exhibitors and manufacturers to work jointly on the future of cinema technology in a way that ensures the priorities, viewpoints and business realities of all participants are reflected in any possible specifications going forward. While the Foundation will not set standards, it will be able to facilitate discussions that may lead to specifications that could enhance competition without sacrificing quality. There are also opportunities for partnerships with universities and corporations that would not be possible as a trade body.
- Data & Research: Data and research will be key to the Foundation and therefore we anticipate a significant number of studies each year. As a 501(c)(3) we can likely significantly reduce costs via in-kind data partnerships, thereby allowing the Foundation to maximize its budget. Here again the Foundation can also partner with leading universities to help expand scholarship and develop case studies to advance the moviegoing experience.
- Industry Charities: The Foundation will form a committee of all nonprofits that are also advancing the moviegoing experience. By working together, we can amplify our messaging across various key events and platforms and likely expand scholarships and financial assistance for our industries’ employees.
These are just a few examples that demonstrate that the Foundation as it is structured can earn more, collaborate more, and achieve more than NATO could alone.
The Foundation has an independent board of directors with participants from various sectors of the industry. The board is appointed by NATO’s Executive Board but does not report to NATO. Foundation President Jackie Brenneman acts as the “bridge” between NATO and the Foundation to ensure that the Foundation is furthering NATO’s mission, as required by its IRS tax status and the Foundation’s Bylaws. NATO also conducts a joint budgeting process to ensure efficiencies across NATO, CinemaCon and the Foundation. However, the Foundation’s board approves its own budget.
We expect the board and volunteer leadership to grow and include content providers/creators, additional suppliers, more exhibitors and other friends of the cinema that share our mission.
The current Foundation board consists of the following directors:
President: Jackie Brenneman (NATO)
Vice President: Tori A. Baker (Salt Lake Film Society)
Secretary: Brian Schultz (LOOK Dine-In Cinemas)
Treasurer: Eduardo Acuna (Cinépolis Americas)
Director: Adam Cassels (Cinionic)
Director: Michelle Maddalena (Dolby Laboratories)
Director: Katherine Twells (Coca-Cola)
Studios and other content providers are welcome to join the Foundation and are welcome for full participation in Foundation activities. We anticipate, over time, that the mix of the foundation leadership may include other parts of the cinema ecosystem, including studios.
The Cinema Foundation is a US nonprofit, which means that specific tax advantages for donations are available only to companies based in the United States. That said, the Foundation is able to accept donations from companies around the world. Further, the Foundation anticipates growing to include more volunteer participation from leading global cinema industry stakeholders. The Foundation is intended to benefit the cinema industry as a whole so participation from global players will be crucial to our success.
We anticipate actively recruiting volunteers for each of the key priority groups in the very near future. Each of the initial committees will include participation by one or more Foundation board members. These board members will work with staff and stakeholders to ensure that the makeup of the volunteer leadership is reflective of the spectrum of relevant industry stakeholders. These decisions will be based on diversity of participation and not based on funding/donations. Anyone interested in volunteering can fill out this LINK to express interest.
The topics being addressed by the foundation include:
- Cinema Careers, Education & Diversity
- Moviegoing Promotion & Creative Community Involvement
- Center for Innovation & Technology
- Industry Data & Research
- Industry Charities
The Foundation plans to launch activities in each of these priority topics, with an approved budget providing equal importance to each of the first four priorities. In order to ensure we are good stewards of our donor money, charitable contributions will grow as the Foundation budget expands.
Each priority will be led by a committee of board members and volunteers who will propose the agenda and schedule of activities to the full Foundation board for approval.
The Cinema Foundation is in its infancy and members of the board are currently holding conversations with the broad cinema community to determine the scope of its activities. The key initiatives have been identified, but not the working methodology. Anyone interested in the cinema is welcome to contribute ideas and direction (or re-direction) to the initial activities. Once the activities are determined the funding requests and committee leadership will be developed.
The Foundation intends to focus its resources on tackling industry-wide challenges and building alliances over five specific areas. The executive board has developed plans for five key committees that will work to implement the Foundation’s mission. Below are short descriptions of each committee as well as a description of target volunteers and/or whether the committee is open to all.
- Cinema Careers, Education & Diversity: The Cinema Careers, Education and Diversity Committee works to identify opportunities to promote the industry as a great place to work via recruitment campaigns, training programs, and opportunities for career growth.. The committee will suggest data initiatives and will work to build possible recruitment and training programs, especially by leveraging relationships with governments and other organizations and foundations. This committee will be open to no more than nine people. It is open to anyone in the industry with hiring or training expertise.
- Moviegoing Promotion & Creative Community Involvement: Building relationships with the creative community to grow audiences, promote the industry and diversify content options.
- Center for Innovation & Technology: The Center for Innovation and Technology will bring together thought leaders from within and outside the industry including technology companies, hospitality and entertainment companies and subject matter experts on the future of cinemas to consider new ways of doing business and new ways of engaging audiences. It will also bring together filmmakers, studios, equipment manufacturers, content suppliers and exhibitors to explore technologies that expand creative possibilities and the business models that make them possible.
- This committee will be led by a Steering Committee, which filters and recommends ideas from two larger “Advisory Board” committees to the Foundation Board. The Innovation “Advisory Board” will be open to all and should include cross-industry thought leaders interested in working on identifying opportunities for the next century of movie theaters from content to food and beverage offerings. The Technology “Advisory Board” will be open to cinema technology leaders working on the intersection between cinemas and technology. The Steering Committee will determine the need for and creation of task forces within the wider committee to focus on specific topics.
- Industry Data & Research: Dedicating resources to funding useful data and research studies to help the industry and to support NATO and the Foundation’s efforts across all areas. This committee is only open to members of the Board of the Foundation – The Treasurer of the Board must sit on this committee. In total, there are five seats on this committee.
- Industry Charities: The Industry Charities Committee will focus on collaborating with existing industry charities to further missions, expand impact, and maximize benefits to industry stakeholders, without directly funding said charities. This committee will be made up of Executive Directors of industry supportive non-profits or charities.
The Center for Innovation and Technology (CIT) will be comprised of two working groups and missions. One will bring together thought leaders from within and outside the industry to consider new ways of doing business and new ways of engaging audiences. The other will bring together filmmakers, studios, equipment manufacturers, content suppliers and exhibitors to explore technologies that expand creative possibilities and the business models that make them possible.
As with all Foundation activities, the CIT will be focused on advancing the moviegoing experience and will include a broad set of participants that wish to further that mission. CIT committee volunteers will likely begin by identifying new cinema business opportunities for innovation. The committee will work with exhibitors to identify specific cinema uses that exhibitors have explored to share with others successes and/or identify how to build on the ideas through the Foundation.
The Center for Innovation and Technology (CIT) will welcome all segments of the technology sector for open discussions on issues and solutions for Cinema Technology - including theatrical presentation, streaming content, gaming content as well as other uses of shared theatrical space. The CIT will address the intersection of technology of all types of content that will utilize the cinema.
DCI’s primary mission is security for theatrical content. DCI representatives will offer important perspectives into CIT work and will be included in all relevant discussion. SMPTE is the worldwide standardization body for the cinema. The Foundation will not set standards but make technical recommendations and introduce innovative approaches to support the industry as a whole.
The CIT will be open to all participants in the Foundation. In particular, we hope to have active participation from: Exhibitors, Technology Providers, Service Providers, Cinema Services and Support, Content Creators, Directors, Cinematographers, Sound Designers, Musicians, Stage Productions, eSports, Sports Teams, Content Providers, Studios, Streaming Services, Live Events, Music Concerts (Highlights are participants that will be actively encouraged to participate.)
No. The Foundation is absolutely not “pay to play” and we value (and require!) a broad cohort of industry volunteers in order to ensure that our efforts are reflective of the needs of the full industry.
That said, the Foundation needs funding to be impactful. Therefore we hope that every volunteer organization finds value in the Foundation’s initiatives and is able to contribute at some level. We will also offer benefits to donors at various levels (including sponsorship opportunities, discounted/free registrations to key events and more) that may add additional value to donors.
We expect that all board of director seats are held by companies that have supported the Foundation financially but there is not a specific funding level required for board participation. Donors will not have control over participation in any committee by virtue of their funding level.
We are always looking for more volunteers! See the links below for information on how to get involved via time, information and/or funding.
Volunteers: Anyone interested in volunteering should fill out this form to indicate your interest.
Information: Please click here [LINK] to sign up for our newsletter to keep on top of all Foundation happenings.
Donate: Click here to make a donation.
The Cinema Foundation is a first-of-its kind all-industry group that will use data and collaboration to solve problems and promote and expand the exhibition industry. While the Foundation is not “pay to play,” if all exhibition industry stakeholders donated a meaningful amount, the Foundation would be immediately ready to tackle the primary issues and opportunities facing the industry now and in the future. All funds donated will help the Foundation create programs and commission meaningful research as directed by the Executive Board and Foundation committees.
Yes! The Cinema Foundation is a proud 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
The Foundation is asking all SVOG recipients to donate an amount equivalent to 1% of their total SVOG award to establishing this Foundation. However, the funds donated can not be SVOG funds, as a charitable donation is not an eligible use of SVOG funding.
The movie theater industry was one of only a small group of industries to receive any federal support. The funding, implementation and ongoing assistance provided by NATO was essential to these efforts. The 1% request is a symbolic amount intended to demonstrate the impact of NATO’s work--if 1% feels like a significant amount of money, imagine your company now without the other 99%. NATO invested in its members; hopefully NATO’s members will do the same for the industry.