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Christian Nonprofit CEOs Mostly White, Mostly Male

Christina Darnell

A look at the 50 largest U.S. ministries in the MinistryWatch database shows that executive team leaders—chief executive officers, presidents, and the like—are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.

Of the 50 nonprofits, seven are led by minority males and five are led by females. Only two companies are led by black men—one is African American and the other African. Three are led by Asian men and two by Hispanic Americans. The largest Christian nonprofit based in the U.S., World Vision, is led by a minority male. None of the female CEOs are women of color.

A Snapshot

Recognizing that 50 is a small sample size compared with the thousands of Christian nonprofits throughout the country, it still provides a useful snapshot and a platform from which to strike a conversation.

When looking at percentages, it would appear Christian nonprofits are slightly higher than secular counterparts in terms of diversity in top leadership compared with Fortune 500 companies.

Two of the 50 largest Christian nonprofits are led by black men (4 percent): Kevin Washington of the YMCA of the USA, who is African American, and Mutua Mahiaini of The Navigators, from Kenya. Two are led by Hispanic Americans (4 percent): Edgar Sandoval of World Vision and Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado of Compassion International. Asian men head up three of our list’s nonprofits (6 percent): Steve Stirling of MAP International, Tom Lin of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and Lloyd Kim of Mission to the World, PCA.

That’s compared with Fortune 500 companies, where five are led by black men—1 percent—and 16 are led by Asian men—3 percent. While there are no comparable statistics for Hispanic CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, a 2017 analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 17 percent of the labor force are Hispanic/Latino but only make up 5.3 percent of executive positions (that includes males and females).

The seven minority males are Edgar Sandoval of World Vision (#1), Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado of Compassion International (#4), Steve Stirling of MAP International (#9), Kevin Washington of YMCA of the USA (#23), Mutua Mahiaini of The Navigators (#24), Tom Lin of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (#38), and Lloyd Kim of Mission to the World, PCA (#46).

Kevin Washington—the only African American on our list—worked his way up the ranks at the YMCA of the USA. He started as a youth program director at the Philadelphia YMCA’s Christian Street branch in 1978. He has been president and CEO of YMCA of the USA since 2015—he’s the first African American to do so.

Of the 500 U.S. companies, 37 are led by women—7.4 percent, an all-time high. Many of those lead companies concentrated nearer the bottom of the list where companies are smaller.

Among our 50 largest Christian ministries in the U.S., two of the women lead companies on the top half of our list, and three lead companies in the bottom half.

The five women are Beth deHamel of Mercy Corps (#10), Anne Goddard of ChildFund (#16), Yael Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (#30), Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries (#37), and Martha Newsome of Medical Teams International (#49).  (The International Fellowship of  Christians and Jews is not a Christian ministry, but it does receive a majority of its financial support from evangelical Christians.)

When Mercy Corps’ former CEO Neal Keny-Guyer resigned amid sex abuse allegations against one of the organization’s co-founders in October 2019, Beth deHamel took over as interim CEO. She had previously served as CFO for Mercy Corps since 2012. She declined to comment for this story, saying Mercy Corps is not a religious organization.

Anne Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund since 2007, also declined to comment for this story, saying ChildFund is no longer a Christian organization. ChildFund used to be Christian Children’s Fund but changed their name in 2009. “Even before our name change, in recent years we served children of all faiths and did not proselytize, respecting the faith values of their parents/ families,” a company spokesperson told Ministry Watch in an email.

Though technically not considered an ethnic minority, Yael Eckstein is Israeli American. She took over the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews when her late father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, passed away in 2019. He founded The Fellowship in 1983 to bridge relationships between Christians and Jews and to build Christian support for Israel. Yael Eckstein was senior vice president before his passing. Born in Chicago, she has extensive experience in biblical and Jewish studies, both from U.S. schools and abroad. The Fellowship, as it’s often referred to, is not a Christian organization, though its donor base is largely Christian.

Intentional Pursuit

Martha Newsome was content in her role as health director for World Vision Mozambique with no aspirations to advance to broader leadership roles. But at 33 years old, her colleagues and mentors urged her to apply for the country director role. When she found out she was pregnant with her second child she almost withdrew her application. “Women have babies all the time,” she recalls a spunky Mozambique colleague telling her. “You just need to tell them what you need to be able to do this role.” She spent the first three months as country director on maternity leave.

Now, she’s CEO of Medical Teams International. She pursued roles in nonprofit leadership because others pursued her—male supervisors during her 20 years at World Vision who pushed her forward and the diverse board who recruited her for Medical Teams in 2016.

She’s thankful for her positive experience but fears it’s rare. And where she sees progress with women in leadership, she says diversity among Christian nonprofits in regards to race is “even worse.” At least in some cases, the reasons are economic. Middle and upper class families are more likely to afford sending their young people overseas for unpaid internships or stints of travel.

“Quite simply, the pool of entry level candidates for a Christian non-profit are majority white and privileged,” Newsome says. “There is significant work needed to help expose economically poorer and non-white communities to this type of work—which they would naturally be empathetic to and well-suited for—and to provide the mentoring and support needed to help enlarge the pool of diverse candidates within the U.S.”

We Need to do Better

In contrast, Steve Stirling fought for each leadership advancement he earned. Orphaned in Korea, he was adopted by caucasian parents at 10 years old and raised in Alaska. He walks with crutches due to complications from a childhood case of polio.

Stirling earned an M.B.A. at Kellogg School of Management, which served as his entry point to get his first job at Johnson & Johnson. He remembers his supervisors and peers being all caucasian when he started in 1982. Once there, he worked hard to prove himself but wasn’t able to participate in common relationship-building activities—golf, tennis. None of his supervisors offered to mentor him (nor did he ask).

When he was passed over for promotions within his current company, he would seek opportunities at another. He says, for a while, he and his family were moving about every three years. He worked for Heifer International, Univera Life Sciences, and ConAgra Functional Foods. At one point, his mission to climb the corporate ladder shifted to one of helping people in need, and he worked with ChildHelp, World Vision, and ChildFund, among others.

In 2014, he joined MAP International as president and CEO. At CEO forums, he looks around and sees mostly caucasian men. He says the minorities and women in leadership positions within both corporate and nonprofit sectors are very low compared with the greater population.

He chocks it up to human nature: “There’s a tendency to look for people who are like you,” he says. “If companies are dominated by white males, they’re going to be looking for other white males to fill those roles.” Same with boards and search committees compiled mostly of white males. But the people and donors these companies represent are much more diverse, and a company’s team benefits by reflecting that from within their own organization, he says.

He believes a company should be led by the person most qualified for the role, and that people of minority ethnicities and genders should aspire to those positions for the sake of those who will come after them. “It’s like the 4-minute mile—until someone does it, you don’t think it can be done.”

Moving Forward

Born in Los Angeles, Edgar Sandoval was 18 with $50 in his pocket when he returned to the U.S. after growing up in Central and South America. He worked his way through classes and college, eventually earning an M.B.A. at the Wharton School of Business. After working 20 years with Procter & Gamble, he joined World Vision in 2015. When long-time president Richard Stearns retired at the end of 2018, Sandoval became the first Hispanic American to lead World Vision.

He sees diversity as more than a workplace principle, but as a “mandate from God.” Sandoval says that, as the body of Christ, diversity is “our destiny” and needs to be pursued with intentionality. World Vision formed the Corinthians Council three years ago specifically to address biblical diversity and inclusion within their own company.

“World Vision’s ministry was founded on the biblical principle that all people are made in the image of God,” he says. “Diversity advances us as the body of Christ, closer to the vivid pictures of the kingdom of heaven.”

In leading a ministry that works with people all over the world, Sandoval sees his ethnicity as a strength. He’s comfortable speaking with people of many different backgrounds. “Having Spanish as my native language allows me to talk and pray directly with families we serve and our local staff in my travels to Latin America,” he says.

He says he’s encouraged at the growing number of diverse leaders at the top—Jimmy Mellado of Compassion, Eugene Cho of Bread for the World, and Walter Kim of National Association of Evangelicals. Cho and Kim are both presidents of their respective nonprofits, though neither were on our list of the 50 largest. They also each stepped into their presidential roles this year.

The Gospel sets Christian nonprofits apart from its secular counterparts—that men and women from every race and ethnicity are equal in worth, in sin, and made equal in Christ for those who repent and submit. Revelation 7 describes “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” to worship Christ.

Stirling reflected this sentiment. As a Korean raised by caucasians he says he doesn’t fit in easily with Koreans because he doesn’t speak the language, but he doesn’t fit in easily with caucasians because he doesn’t look like them. Where he feels most at home is among Christian brothers and sisters. Though not related by their own blood, they’re “related by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.”

“As Christians, we are accepted by whose we are, not by who we are,” Stirling says.

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Christina Darnell
Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.

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