Originally written by experts with Authority Magazine
I had the pleasure of interviewing Travis Arnold.
Travis has served as president and CEO of Feed the Children since 2017 after extensive service to the organization in multiple leadership roles. Arnold has a broad and varied background of experience in operations, transportation and executive leadership. The Oklahoma native joined Feed the Children in 2001 after serving more than 20 years in a variety of management positions with United Parcel Service (UPS).
Prior to becoming president and CEO of Feed the Children, Arnold served as the president of FTC Transportation from 2002 to 2006. He served as Feed the Children’s chief operating officer from 2006 to 2017. While COO, he served three separate terms as interim president and CEO of the nonprofit, ensuring continuity and focus on the organization’s philanthropic mission through periods of change. Since 2018, Arnold has served on the Oklahoma Advisory Committee for the United States Global Leadership Conference (USGLC). The committee consists of leading business, faith, nonprofit and military leaders who stand up and say our role in the world is important and we should not diminish diplomatic programs at our U.S. State Department.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I began my career at UPS which provided me with many opportunities to grow and develop management skills. After more than two decades of managing teams in the for-profit industry, I wanted to see how those skills could be applied in the nonprofit sector. My logistics background was very important, especially since Feed the Children has 5 distribution centers and transports millions of pounds of food and essentials each year both across the United States and internationally. I started in 2001, but I knew I was in the right place after just a few months. I learned how meaningful our work is after 9/11. Feed the Children was very active in the recovery efforts and were actually at Ground Zero on the second day distributing supplies. Those early days have stuck with me and seeing our mission in action and the impact we can have is something that guides me even today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
My first trip to Central America with Feed the Children was an enlightening one from me. I had the opportunity to witness our feeding and education programs in action in three different communities ranging from the foothills to the top of Mount Volcancito, Guatemala. At the site at the top of the mountain, there was no electricity or running water. What was interesting is that there wasn’t one child with a frown on their face. They weren’t sad that they didn’t have the things that many of us take for granted. They were happy. This reminds me that as long as we’re helping children and providing hope, we’re accomplishing something.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not long after beginning my career at Feed the Children, I accepted a speaking engagement at the request of the New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton who was recognizing Feed the Children and other nonprofits. The black-tie event was held in the Superdome in New Orleans in front of thousands of people. Little did I know that I would have to follow some magnificent speakers which included not only Coach Payton, but also country singer Sammy Kershaw and Dr. Phil. I learned that day, if you’re ever asked to be a guest speaker, ask who’s in front of you.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Feed the Children exists with one goal — to end childhood hunger. It’s the cause that not only myself but my entire team continue to fight for every day. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the importance of our work across America and internationally to light. Today, many families are facing unexpected challenges. However, defeating hunger is something that we’ve been working diligently on for more than 40 years. With the help of our corporate and community partners, we are ensuring that as the need grows, children and their families continue to receive the food and household essentials they require.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One of my most profound experiences with Feed the Children was the first time I attended a Homeless Education and Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.) backpack program distribution. As part of this program, we distributed backpacks that were filled with school supplies, snacks and personal care items to children who are homeless. As I handed a young girl — she was probably in the 2nd grade — a backpack, she looked up at me and asked, can I keep this? Is this mine?
At any given time, there are more than 2.5 million homeless children across America. During the past 10 years, Feed the Children has distributed more than a million backpacks to children just like this young girl. I think of her at each backpack distribution and it resonates with me even today. To me, it was simply a backpack, but it meant so much more to her because everything that she had was going into that backpack.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Donate to support our efforts. We rely on the support of corporate partners as well as individual donors to ensure that we can continue to provide resources to families across America and the 10 countries we serve. The work we do would not be possible without this support and every dollar is important.
- Volunteer: Help pack boxes loaded with food and essentials or distribute products at events. The work that we do would not be possible with volunteers.
- Help tell our story and raise awareness of the need by sharing our mission through social networks, and by showing kindness and generosity to your neighbors. It takes all of us working together to defeat hunger.