Food and Nutrition First: A Conversation with Matt Panos

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. We begin with part 1 of an interview with Matt Panos, Feed the Children’s Chief Development Officer.

mattTell us about your background and your role at Feed the Children.

As Chief Development Officer, I oversee all the annual income we receive from individual donors, volunteers, and churches. I also manage our television, radio, direct mail and digital activities, our customer relations, and monthly giving programs, including Feed America’s Children and our Child Sponsorship program.

How did you come to be a part of the organization?

I was recruited in late spring of 2012 by then-acting Chief Development Officer, Chris Cleghorn. The organization needed help with its direct response marketing program and had a goal to evaluate and rebuild our television and radio programs. I was asked to become the permanent Chief Development Officer in September of 2012 and started in the role on October 1st.

Child sponsorship is one of your areas of responsibility. Tell us about that—how it works, and what makes it distinctive from similar programs.

2014 TRIP 1441 - Guatemala (585)Child sponsorship is still the most compelling way an individual or family can give funds, communicate with a particular child in one of our support countries, and see a tangible difference in that child’s life. Even though our funding model of support is to support the whole community, the sponsor can communicate with one child and see how the child, their family and whole community benefit from their donations to sponsorship.

I’d say Feed the Children’s program is unique because we put food and nutrition first and ensure children get at least one good meal per day. Many other organizations do not include food or daily nutrition in their sponsorship program. Feed the Children understands that a child who is hungry tends to learn poorly and can have developmental disabilities because of the lack of good food and proper nutrition.

What’s one misconception about child sponsorship you’d like to correct?

The hardest message to get across to child sponsors is the money they give doesn’t go directly to their child… and that’s a good thing for the child, their family and the community. Feed the Children does community development programming, meaning we use the money to help the entire community escape poverty.

_C1Z5369_High Res.When we “pool” one sponsor’s money with other sponsors, we can fund a whole school feeding program, for example, or build a water well for the whole community, or provide sanitation so everyone benefits. Some organizations give the funds more directly to one child’s family, which means others in the community may be left out or do poorly. Community development work lifts all children out of poverty, not just the individual, and it’s been proven that a thriving community is much better for each of the individual children.

Of course, there are children all over the world who need support. But is there a region of the world where the need is particularly great at this time?

The World Bank studies tell us that nearly one billion people still live in extreme poverty, meaning they exist on less than $1.25 per day. The industrialization of China and India and poverty abatement programs like those at Feed the Children have cut extreme poverty over the past 30 years from more than 50% of the world’s population down to about 25%.

S94A6620Unfortunately, in that same period of time, the countries in Africa have had only minor improvements. Most of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa. We have a presence there now, but we want to expand our reach in Africa and improve our community development programming. We’re going to need to raise more private funds, and receive grants from the United States, Canada and the European Union if we’re going to make a difference in Africa in the near term.

You have opportunity to travel extensively in your work. Tell us about a visit you made recently and what you witnessed there.

I was in Kenya this past fall and, like many who have visited, was quite taken by the Abandoned Baby Center. It goes beyond abandoned babies and has numerous children with physical disabilities who live there as well. I’m so proud of Feed the Children’s commitment to all of the children at the Center, and the quality of life made possible by the many donors who have provided support.

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