We All Play a Part: A Conversation with Matt Panos, Part 2

Editor’s Note: We continue our series posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is part 2 of an interview with Matt Panos, Feed the Children’s Chief Development Officer. Part 1, “Food and Nutrition First,” can be found here.

2014 TRIP 1441 - Guatemala (302)In addition to child sponsorship, you oversee fundraising in general. How has social media changed the way organizations approach fundraising and development?

Social media is fast becoming the method of choice for individuals who want to communicate their commitment and raise money for their favorite non-profit organizations. Peer-to-peer fundraising, which is where individuals use digital means to recruit friends and family to support a fundraising effort, is now raising more than $750 milliona year for our nation’s charities. Many organizations raise a large percentage of their money through peer-to-peer social media fundraising. The Ice Bucket Challenge by the ALS Association last year is the perfect example of how social media can be used to promote an event and, in the right environment, it can go viral, capture new supporters and motivate people to raise millions of dollars.

How has it changed donor behavior and expectations?

In our case, 85+% of our donors are over 50, so social media has done little to change our donors’ behavior. Most of the older “legacy” donors didn’t get into social media until after they formed their charitable preferences and so have more trust in traditional giving methods. This simply means that most organizations are not yet experiencing big shifts in the giving habits of the donors who provide the most money.

However, many Gen Xers and the Millennials are forming their first impressions about non-profits through social media, so all organizations who are doing events and fundraising (or just “friend-raising”) need to use social media as an aspect of their fundraising programs… or risk being left off the “preferred” list of these younger donors when they get older and have substantial money to give!

IMG_2172What motivates you in this work? Is there a statistic, or a story or situation that gets you up in the morning and keeps you going?

I’ve been privileged to see effective non-profit programs and how they work in the lives of the people they serve. I’ve had many memorable experiences here in the US and around the world that keep me excited about raising money and helping people.

Here’s one from early in my career. I was the director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) summer camp as part of my role as District Director for Southwest Florida. This required a week of my time to supervise the managers who actually did the legwork every day in running various aspects of the camp such as food service, children’s activities, and managing volunteers. Each camper had one volunteer counselor assigned to them for the week to support their participation in activities, meals, and so forth.

Each day had a time at the pool, and on the first day, the counselors and campers paired up for a game requiring the campers to be on the shoulders of their counselor. One pretty big camper was paired with a counselor that couldn’t lift him, so it looked like he wouldn’t be able to play with the others. As a fairly big person, I knew I could lift this child, so I jumped in the pool, hoisted him on my shoulders and we joined the game… and won!

Afterward I helped him back into his wheelchair, and he was in tears. He said he’d never had so much fun! I was with this young man at the pool every day that week, and it’s one of my fondest memories. It’s events like these that connect raising money with the work that affects each and every person who benefits. Without the support of generous donors, these activities just aren’t possible.

As a member of the Feed the Children “team,” what’s one hope you have for people who may read this? What’s one action you hope they will take?

A long time ago I heard a story about President Kennedy visiting NASA in the early 1960’s. He had several meetings there and as they entered the building, they had to walk down a long corridor. Way down the corridor was a man with a bucket cleaning the floor and windows. The Secret Service raced ahead of the President to get the man out of the way, but the President asked them to leave him alone. When the President caught up, he asked the man, “What do you do here at NASA?” Without hesitation the man said, “We’re going to put a man on the moon!”

A Malawi Village Savings and Loan group meets for planning and sharing.
A Malawi Village Savings and Loan group meets for planning and sharing.

That man at NASA clearly understood NASA’s mission—and that he was part of it. That’s my hope for all of us connected to Feed the Children: each of us understands that every job and every task we do plays a part in achieving our mission: that “one day, no child will go to bed hungry!”

To read more about Feed the Children’s child sponsorship program, click here.