NATO Volunteers Make A Substantial Impact – You Can Too!

News Reel Blog   

This article originally appeared in Boxoffice magazine

Military life, for the most part, is nothing like civilian life (unless you subscribe to the Bill Murray in Stripes version of the military, then it’s campy and unrealistic). My friend is a former captain in the U.S. Army. He told me the first piece of advice he received in the Army was, “Don’t ever volunteer for anything.” And he didn’t. Luckily the U.S. Army – and almost all branches of the military – maintains a strict chain of command. You do exactly what the person ranked above you says to do, or there will be dire consequences. It generally works for them. Civilian life, on the other hand, enjoys a much more pleasant approach to volunteerism. In the realm of non-profit trade associations, the member volunteer is the strongest and most valuable asset within that organization. The knowledge and perspective of an experienced member volunteer can help focus the direction of the association. They can also inspire others to do the same.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) effectively represents the motion picture exhibition industry in many different ways. Whether intersecting with public policy makers in Washington, D.C., or with leading movie industry executives and creative community in Los Angeles, NATO advocates for the collective interests of its members. But without the dedicated and passionate service of committed volunteer members, NATO would be a much less successful organization. Other trade bodies in the entertainment, service and retail industries may have bigger budgets and larger staff numbers, but NATO’s volunteer leadership and grass roots base is second to none. With 566 member companies operating 32,884 screens in all fifty states and U.S. Territories, and with 62 additional member companies operating in 82 countries around the world, NATO can call on hundreds and hundreds of talented and passionate volunteer advocates.

According to a recent, member-driven Strategic Plan for the organization, NATO’s top priorities include:

  • preservation of a robust theatrical release window;
  • enactment and promulgation of fair government policies;
  • development and standardization of cinema presentation technologies;
  • encouragement of a broad and diverse supply of movies appealing to all demographics in all twelve-months of the year;
  • maintenance of a safe and secure moviegoing environment;
  • promotion of the magical moviegoing experience;
  • oversight and preservation of a voluntary movie rating system; and
  • protection against movie theft (“piracy”).

With a relatively modest budget (i.e. we spread out those holiday candy gifts for a looong time), NATO staff members pursue these priorities from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., and from our second office in North Hollywood, California. In addition to full-time professional staff, NATO also works with consultants, attorneys and other independent contractors to strengthen our reach. Yet we are only as strong as the input from our members. And here’s the beauty of it all: ANY member can volunteer their expertise to the association.

Three recent examples exemplify the volunteer spirit at NATO. Each of these three leaders has made substantial contributions to enhance an industry they each truly love.

David Passman – Board Chairman Extraordinaire

David Passman, President and CEO of Carmike Cinemas, has served on NATO’s Executive Board for six years, where he recently concluded two terms as Chairman. His vision and leadership won him the respect of NATO members – major circuits and independents alike.  David’s governance acumen helped NATO streamline its governance and strengthen the role of Committees and Task Forces. CinemaCon was in its infancy when David was first elected as NATO Chairman.  Throughout his terms, David was actively engaged in convention planning and his insights and guidance helped CinemaCon grow and succeed. David’s unwavering dedication, commitment and service to the motion picture theater industry are extraordinary. It is fitting that David will receive the exhibition industry’s top honor, the NATO Marquee Award, at CinemaCon 2016.

Bill Campbell – Champion of the Independent Theatre Owner

Bill Campbell, President & Treasurer of Orpheum Theatre, Inc. in Sheridan, WY, has served as the Managing Director of NATO’s Cinema Buying Group (CBG) since 2009. He has also served as Chair of NATO’s Independent Theatre Owners Committee. Bill has the typical D.N.A. of an independent operator having helped his dad run the operation while growing up in Wyoming. A dedicated family man (and ardent Denver Broncos fan, so please excuse his swagger), Bill focuses his attention on improving moviegoing in small towns across America. Whether it’s leading the CBG through new program development, or advocating the needs of small cinemas to the studios, Bill exudes an independent spirit. As a testament to his significant contributions, he was awarded the NATO Marquee Award at CinemaCon 2015.

Randy Smith – Consummate Attorney and Negotiator

Randy Smith, Chief Administrative Office and Counsel of Regal Entertainment Group, joined Regal in 1998. Since that time, Randy has served consistently as NATO’s most active and influential member volunteer. As a lawyer, a lobbyist, a negotiator, a presenter, an editor and most importantly a counselor to staff and fellow members, Randy has given, and continues to give, his time and considerable talents to protect and grow the movie exhibition business. Randy’s leadership has moved the industry forward on such diverse issues as access for patrons with disabilities; appropriate movie ratings and advertising policies; the fight to stop movie theft; proper building codes; and the detection and prevention of security threats against cinemas. All exhibitors, large and small, owe Randy a debt of gratitude for his tireless work on behalf of the industry he loves.

The three NATO members just described have each had a lasting and highly beneficial impact on the exhibition industry. And they have each contributed literally thousands of hours of their busy professional time to serve their fellow exhibitors.  But any NATO member can have an impact as a volunteer – without spending thousands of hours doing it.  Here are some examples of how YOU can easily get involved.


  • Attend the annual NATO Membership Meeting and Fall Summit – Hey, it’s free for all NATO members, and most sessions are open to everyone.
  • Become a Member of NATO’s Advisory Board of Directors – This is the easiest and most direct way to absorb and discuss the key issues for the association.
  • Run for a Seat on NATO’s Executive Board of Directors – Thanks to the democratic spirit of NATO’s membership, the decision-making body of the association is obtainable for ANY member volunteer.
  • Join a NATO Committee or Task Force – Focus on one or a few key topics to help guide the Advisory Board and the Executive Board.
  • Respond to NATO’s Government Relations Grass Roots Action Alerts – Act as a voice to local policy-makers on behalf of the industry, and even come to Washington D.C. to influence federal lawmakers.
  • Participate in a NATO, Cinema Buying Group, or CinemaCon Member Survey – The NATO staff craves your feedback.
  • Listen in on a NATO or Cinema Buying Group Webinar – These are always free, and provide significant and immediate return on your membership investment.
  • Check out NATO’s Employee Training Materials – The industry’s frontline employees represent the strongest interaction with the public.
  • Display Important Information in your Cinema on Movie Ratings and Movie Theft – Educate patrons on the content of movies with these FREE resources.
  • Renew your NATO Membership Annually – or if you are not a member, JOIN NOW!

We adore our members and the daily effort they exert to provide a fun and memorable moviegoing experience. By getting involved in the association, any exhibition company owner or executive can give something back to their industry, while learning a great deal, and making very useful contacts at the same time. Let us know how you might want to get involved. Contact me at [email protected] today!

Comments are closed.