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Travis Arnold: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”

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 […]

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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.


Ihad 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?

Ibegan 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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is demonstrated by a person of integrity and a visionary who has problem-solving skills and who understands the importance of relationship building. In my heart, my father will always be my example of a good leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I asked my father years later into my career what made him successful in business. He was successful in his career and well-respected in his field. His advice was to always surround yourself with individuals who are more educated and smarter than you, to treat them with respect and to be fair and that they would help you to be successful. There is so much truth to that and looking back I wish I would have asked for that advice much earlier in my career.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The table around which we sit for meals, be it a physical table or a metaphorical table, is a special space. Now, more than ever, it’s important for everyone, everywhere to come together to ensure that we do not let our neighbors down when they need us the most. Let’s practice kindness, civility and inclusiveness to build a bigger table. We can help ensure those living on low incomes, or who have been affected by an unexpected job loss, have access to nutritious foods. And, let’s purposefully pause to appreciate and value the time that comes with eating meals together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” The premise of that quote is that you have to challenge yourself and your team to do something different and something more to expect improvement. That’s what we do every day at Feed the Children. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to defeat hunger. We know that we can’t do this alone and we actually have a vast network of community and corporate partners who help us further our mission. During recent months, there have been a variety of ways we have worked together to deliver food and household essentials including door-to-door home delivery and drive-thru product pick-ups (food, water, hygiene items). Some community partners even have a call-in number to ensure those who are homebound or quarantined receive the items they need.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I had the pleasure to meet Roger Staubach years ago and would enjoy the opportunity to have a private meal with him. There are several reasons, both personally and professionally, that I admire Roger. He graduated from the Naval Academy, went on to serve 4 years of active duty service in the Navy, played 11 years of professional football with the Dallas Cowboys and led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. Outside of sports, he founded the very successful Staubach Commercial Real Estate Firm. I found him to be a man of great integrity and someone who would always be willing to teach and mentor. More importantly — especially with all his accomplishments — he also remains very humble.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: @feedthechildren

Twitter: @feedthechildren

Instagram: @feedthechildrenorg

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