Leaps of Faith
On his first day as CEO of the Christian relief agency World Vision, Rich Stearns sat down in a conference room, bowed his head in prayer, and wondered, not for the first time, what exactly he'd gotten himself into.
In 1998, after a successful corporate career, Stearns left behind his corner office and company Jaguar at Lenoxa high-end tableware companyand entered a world he knew nothing about. He was convinced that God had called him to the joband nearly as certain that he would fail.
So his prayer went something like this: "Lord, I don't have a clue when the eight o'clock bell sounds, and it is time to start actually doing this job. I haven't the foggiest idea where to start."
Then he added this request.
"I did my part. I showed up," he told God. "Now you have to do the rest, or we are going to screw up one of the best ministries in the kingdom."
Stearns learned quickly. During his tenure, his business skills have helped World Vision cut overhead costs and strengthen its programs to better serve some of the world's poorest people.
In doing so, he's joined a long list of Christian businesspeople who've taken leaps of faith into the nonprofit world. That list includes Peter the fisherman; George Williams, who was a draper before starting the Young Men's Christian Association in the 1840s; Bill Bright, who ran Bright's California Confections before starting Campus Crusade for Christ; and Millard Fuller, who was a millionaire lawyer and entrepreneur before founding Habitat for Humanity.
In recent years, several high-profile Christian nonprofitsincluding World Relief, Habitat for Humanity, and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)have hired former business leaders to head their organizations. Sammy Mah of World Relief and Ken Behr of ECFA are former auto industry executives. Jonathan Reckford of Habitat was once president of stores for Musicland. (Both Reckford and Behr were executive pastors at megachurches before taking their new jobs.)
It's a list that is likely to grow. According to a report, "The Leadership Deficit," in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, American nonprofits will need to hire 640,000 new executives in the next decade. Because nonprofits are not producing leaders fast enough, many of those leaders will have to come from the outside. As author Thomas J. Tierney put it, most nonprofits are "one person away from a leadership crisis."
A Brand New World
At the same time, many baby boomers are looking to move from "success to significance," a phrase coined by Bob Buford, author of Halftime. Like Bill Gates, who recently decided to work full-time at his foundation, many Christians hope to put their business skills and resources to work in the charitable world.
But it's no easy transition, says Laura Nash, formerly a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Church on Sunday, Work on Monday. Businesspeople are accustomed to a world where everything is measurable, from results to bottom-line profits. In the nonprofit or church world, results are harder to measure, says Nash. Any mention of business terms like efficiency or customer service prompts suspicion.
There's a stereotypical assumption among Christians in the nonprofit world that capitalism means greed or selfishness, and "therefore has got to be bad," says Nash, founder and managing partner of Piper Cove Asset Management LLC. Using goals to measure progressstandard practice in the business worldis seen as "cold-blooded and materialistic."