James MacDonald’s Walk in the Word Failed to Report Donations to IRS

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.

Donor Responsibility

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 FoundationDonation AmountFiscal Year Ending
Cedar Street Charitable Foundation$20,000December 2018
Christian Community Foundation$50,000March 2017
Community Foundation of Greater Memphis$500April 2019
Community Foundation of Greater Memphis$11,500April 2016
Everett D & Geneva V Sugarbaker Foundation$2,000December 2013
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund$15,088June 2019
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund$8,982June 2018
Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund$8,750June 2017
Fish Family Foundation of Maine$600December 2013
FWG Foundation$8,000December 2018
FWG Foundation$1,000December 2017
Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation$1,500December 2018
Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation$100December 2017
Infaith Community Foundation$10,000December 2017
John Calvin Bible Foundation$1,000June 2015
John Calvin Bible Foundation$3,000June 2014
JP Morgan Foundation$1,483December 2011
Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation$3,600December 2018
Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation$3,600December 2017
Kyra Gebhardt Charitable Foundation$1,900December 2016
Leopardo Charitable Foundation$1,250December 2014
Mitchell Swaback Charities$10,000December 2016
Mitchell Swaback Charities$10,000December 2015
Mitchell Swaback Charities$10,000December 2013
Mitchell Swaback Charities$16,000December 2012
Mitchell Swaback Charities$19,500December 2011
Mitchell Swaback Charities$11,000December 2010
National Christian Charitable Foundation$82,696December 2017
National Christian Charitable Foundation$6,000December 2016
National Christian Charitable Foundation$260,370December 2015
National Christian Charitable Foundation$257,638December 2014
National Christian Charitable Foundation$13,590December 2013
National Christian Charitable Foundation$11,563December 2012
Nora and Richard Lewis Family Foundation$77,000December 2015
Overbeck Family Foundation$5,000December 2013
Plethuno Foundation$1,000December 2014
Plethuno Foundation$500December 2011
The Rock Foundation$1,050November 2014
Schwab Charitable Fund$26,200June 2019
Schwab Charitable Fund$40,400June 2018
Schwab Charitable Fund$22,500June 2017
Schwab Charitable Fund$41,100June 2016
Schwab Charitable Fund$46,500June 2014
The Spano Family Charitable Foundation$2,500December 2010
Ted and Suzanne Groesbeck Foundation$843December 2017
TSH Charitable Foundation$500April 2016
TSH Charitable Foundation$1,500April 2015
TSH Charitable Foundation$1,500April 2014
VJS Charitable Private Foundation$2,500February 2019
VJS Charitable Private Foundation$2,500February 2018

Creative Commons License  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: