In response to the infamous Jim Bakker/PTL scandal, Congress held a hearing in 1987. Pastor D. James Kennedy testified, “I would think that if a person is going to give money to something, that they have … a responsibility to learn where it is going.”
But how can donors make responsible decisions if charities and churches are not transparent about their finances?
James MacDonald’s ministry Walk in the Word (WITW) reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that it received $0 in donations for a three-year period encompassing July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2014. A Trinity Foundation investigation has determined the ministry failed to report donations from non-profit charitable foundations.
In 2012, WITW received $16,000 from Mitchell Swaback Charities and $11,563 from the National Christian Charitable Foundation.
In 2013, WITW received $2,000 from the Everett D & Geneva V Sugarbaker Foundation, $600 from the Fish Family Foundation of Maine, $10,000 from Mitchell Swaback Charities, $13,590 from the National Christian Charitable Foundation, and $5,000 from the Overbeck Family Foundation.
In 2014, the National Christian Charitable Foundation gave WITW $257,638, but it is difficult to determine if the money was given throughout the year or after the fiscal year ended on June 30th.
The failure to report at least $58,000 to the IRS should serve as a red flag for supporters of James MacDonald. Where did the money go?
For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014, WITW switched from filing the Form 990-EZ to the Form 990-N, which does not disclose total revenue or total expenses.
Although the Form 990-N is restricted to organizations normally receiving $50,000 or less in revenue, WITW used the form while receiving more than $270,000 from foundations in 2015.
More recently, the National Christian Charitable Foundation donated $82,696 in 2017.
The Same Name Game
When two separate organizations operate with the same name or similar names, it creates an opportunity for multiple bank accounts with the same name and opportunities for financial abuses. Trinity Foundation calls this “the same name game.”
While MacDonald served as pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel registered the tradename Walk in the Word Ministries and transferred more than $2 million in assets from WITW to the church.
It is possible that all the charitable foundation donations were transferred from WITW to the church. However, the 990-EZ and 990-N documents do not show such transfers.
Furthermore, many of the charitable foundations giving donations to WITW identify the recipient not just by name, but also by Employer Identification Number (EIN) 36-4218233. Clearly, their goal was to support the media ministry of MacDonald rather than the church.
IRS Reporting Requirements Exempts Churches
Non-profit organizations are required by law to annually file financial disclosure documents based on the amount of revenue they receive. Churches, synagogues and mosques are exempt from these requirements.
Organizations with normally $50,000 or less in revenue are required to file the Form 990-N which is also called a postcard 990.
Organizations with less than $200,000 in revenue and less than $500,000 in assets are required to file the Form 990-EZ and larger organizations are required to file the Form 990.
Concerned donors may review 990s at Guidestar, the 990 Finder, ProPublica and the IRS Tax Exempt Organization Search.
If a non-profit organization fails to file a Form 990 for three consecutive years, it may lose its non-profit status.
The filing deadline for non-profits is usually May 15th but was extended to July 15th in 2020 because of Covid-19. These organizations may request a 6-month extension to file 990s. Because of delays in filing and IRS processing, some 2019 forms are still not be available for review.
In Acts 10:4 an angel appears to Cornelius and tells him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have ascended as a memorial offering before God.” This Bible verse shows that giving can be an act of worship and perhaps even a sacred duty as well.
If foundation officers carefully examined WITW’s financial documents (990-EZ), they would have noticed the organization was no longer reporting donations. With a little more diligence, this should have served as an adequate warning the ministry was not operating in a financially transparent manner.
List of Foundation Donations to Walk in the Word
|Charitable Foundation||Donation Amount||Fiscal Year Ending|
|Cedar Street Charitable Foundation||$20,000||December 2018|
|Christian Community Foundation||$50,000||March 2017|
|Community Foundation of Greater Memphis||$500||April 2019|
|Community Foundation of Greater Memphis||$11,500||April 2016|
|Everett D & Geneva V Sugarbaker Foundation||$2,000||December 2013|
|Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund||$15,088||June 2019|
|Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund||$8,982||June 2018|
|Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund||$8,750||June 2017|
|Fish Family Foundation of Maine||$600||December 2013|
|FWG Foundation||$8,000||December 2018|
|FWG Foundation||$1,000||December 2017|
|Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation||$1,500||December 2018|
|Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation||$100||December 2017|
|Infaith Community Foundation||$10,000||December 2017|
|John Calvin Bible Foundation||$1,000||June 2015|
|John Calvin Bible Foundation||$3,000||June 2014|
|JP Morgan Foundation||$1,483||December 2011|
|Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation||$3,600||December 2018|
|Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation||$3,600||December 2017|
|Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation||$1,900||December 2016|
|Leopardo Charitable Foundation||$1,250||December 2014|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$10,000||December 2016|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$10,000||December 2015|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$10,000||December 2013|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$16,000||December 2012|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$19,500||December 2011|
|Mitchell Swaback Charities||$11,000||December 2010|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$82,696||December 2017|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$6,000||December 2016|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$260,370||December 2015|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$257,638||December 2014|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$13,590||December 2013|
|National Christian Charitable Foundation||$11,563||December 2012|
|Nora and Richard Lewis Family Foundation||$77,000||December 2015|
|Overbeck Family Foundation||$5,000||December 2013|
|Plethuno Foundation||$1,000||December 2014|
|Plethuno Foundation||$500||December 2011|
|The Rock Foundation||$1,050||November 2014|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||$26,200||June 2019|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||$40,400||June 2018|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||$22,500||June 2017|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||$41,100||June 2016|
|Schwab Charitable Fund||$46,500||June 2014|
|The Spano Family Charitable Foundation||$2,500||December 2010|
|Ted and Suzanne Groesbeck Foundation||$843||December 2017|
|TSH Charitable Foundation||$500||April 2016|
|TSH Charitable Foundation||$1,500||April 2015|
|TSH Charitable Foundation||$1,500||April 2014|
|VJS Charitable Private Foundation||$2,500||February 2019|
|VJS Charitable Private Foundation||$2,500||February 2018|
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