CEO of the Year: Large Nonprofit

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From the December 2012 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Todd Yarrington

Employees call President and CEO Matt Habash by his first name as he roams the offices of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Much like the nonprofit’s new $16 million green facility, his leadership style is also fresh.

In the last 18 months, Habash has retooled the Foodbank from a dry-goods pantry to one that distributes fresh produce, meats and dairy. He has implemented an original software program to better channel resources using visitor data, built alliances within academia and other charities, and aims to offer social services as well as food. He challenges staff and volunteers to ask, “How do we let clients come back more often?”

Habash is quick to dispel the notion that hunger fits a single social stereotype. It’s often invisible, is a growing problem in the suburbs and affects every aspect of society, he says. Habash doesn’t just want to fill empty bellies—he wants to address the ramifications that poor nutrition presents in educational, health care and workforce settings. “We see this in a very holistic way, but food is still the key,” Habash says.

His work on the boards of Mount Carmel Health System and the Ohio State University Food Innovation System, among other organizations, informs Foodbank policy. The Grove City headquarters features a lab where employees can experiment and teach volunteers to meet the challenges of distributing fresher foods and providing a client-choice model of service.

“Last year, we gave out about 46 million pounds of food. That’s about $50 million worth of food, and more than half of that was fresh food,” Habash says. “It’s been a whole new shift in our way of work. But it also gives us the ability to explore how we can play a role in the health of the community.”

Mid-Ohio Foodbank is the 13th-largest pantry in the country based on the amount of food that goes through the organization. It distributes through 559 charities in 20 Ohio counties. In 2010, the most recent data available, the nonprofit reported revenue of $55.97 million. Gifts and grants made up almost $43 million of that total.

Last year, the nonprofit was able to increase its fleet by four vehicles. Its 22 trucks and tractor-trailers have boosted annual visits to farmers markets from 15 to 150. This year, the Foodbank won $800,000 of $3.1 million in funding granted by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation; the money will be used to help clients manage Type 2 diabetes.

Habash is also leading a national effort to acquire 1 billion more pounds of fresh produce for food banks across the country. At certain “benefit bank” locations, Mid-Ohio Foodbank volunteers prescreen clients for government aid, including food stamps, health care and student loan applications. With its new software, the organization can better target communities in need and get perishables delivered faster.

“That’s the kind of thing that excites me in terms of our ability to really take these surplus but limited resources and get them to the clients that are really going to be able to use them and maximize their health,” Habash says.

“My job’s to feed the hungry; my dream is to go out of business. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten a lot bigger since I started in 1984, so we’re not going the right direction at the moment. But I believe that ultimately, this country can end hunger.”

Reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.