Bill Gothard Institute Faces Uncertain Financial Future

By Shannon Cuthrell
Bill Gothard IBLP
Bill Gothard, founder and former leader of Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), was the target of a lawsuit by 10 women for sexual abuse in 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

In the 1970s and 80s, Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles’ week-long seminars filled arenas.  Millions of evangelicals attended the programs, and many Christian leaders today say the events were life-changing, resulting in a first time commitment to Christ, or decisions to enter the ministry.

The seminars allowed Gothard to build an international following. In addition to the seminars, the organization created homeschool curriculums, training centers, a prison ministry, and other educational programs. But in recent years, the non-denominational ministry has seen a decline from its once-influential and well-connected source of resources and community for like-minded Christians. 

At the core of this shift are numerous allegations of sexual harassment dating back decades, implicating Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) founder and former president Bill Gothard. Gothard resigned in 2014 and a related lawsuit was dismissed over the statute of limitations. However, since his resignation, little has been scrutinized about his organization’s financial activities.

MinistryWatch made several attempts to reach the IBLP for an interview to discuss its financials, but the organization did not respond.

A Closer Look

The first thing one notices during an examination of the IBLP financial statements is that 2019 revenue of about $4.5 million is a third less its 2015 revenue of about $7.4 million.  In 2001, the organization took in more than $41 million.

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The other key data point is this:  The ministry has lost tens of millions of dollars over the past decade.  It lost money (expenses exceeded revenue) every year from 2011 to 2017.  Total losses for those years exceeded $27 million.

Institute in Basic Life Principles gothard
Institute in Basic Life Principles (courtesy logo)

Most ministries rely on donor contributions to survive, but the IBLP’s most recent Form 990 filings indicate that its contributions only take up a small portion of its revenue: 9.2% in 2018, 7% in 2017, 11.5% in 2016 and 6.7% in 2015.  In none of those years did donation income exceed $1 million.

So how did the organization survive with so little donor income?  IBLP generates significant income from the sale of programs and services. However, this output has fluctuated significantly in the most recent years for which its Form 990s are available. Of its total annual revenue, program services accounted for 13.8% in 2018, 83.6% in 2017, 73.2% in 2016 and 23.6% in 2015. Per its latest Form 990, the IBLP’s revenue consists of seminar fees, sales of literature and tapes, home education tuition, and training center fees. 

In another abnormality, the “other revenue” lines on its Form 990s far exceeded all other funding sources in 2015 and 2018, accounting for 69.6% and 66% of its total revenue, respectively. In its 2015 Form 990, $5.1 million of its $7.4 million in revenue came from an “other revenue” line labeled “miscellaneous.” In 2018, most of the organization’s $8.5 million in revenue came from $5.1 million in a “miscellaneous” line item labeled “gain on sale of net assets.” 

Historically, the IBLP once thrived on contributions. In 2001, more than half of its $41.1 million in total revenue came from direct public support, while about a third came from program services. That year, the IBLP noted that about 50 seminars were conducted, over 250,000 pieces of literature, tapes, and videos were sold, and 6,000 families received home education materials, support or education. 

The following year tells a different story—its direct public support plunged from $26.1 million to $1.2 million, and its program service revenue dipped from $14.9 million to $12 million. Still, these figures reflect the ministry at its peak.

Since then, the IBLP has seen dwindling financials in both categories, shifting away from contributions and towards relying on other revenue. Based on its publicly available Form 990s since 2001, this trend started to take shape post-2005.

Unspecified Salary and Wage Expenses

The organization’s spending patterns raise even more questions. Most notably, its “other salaries and wages” category accounts for a significant amount of its expenses, despite no associated pension plan accruals and contributions or other employee benefits and payroll taxes being recorded in its recent Form 990s. In 2018, “other salaries and wages” accounted for $2.2 million of its total $6.4 million in functional expenses, yet its three highest-compensated staff members only earned $203,205 altogether. 

This pattern also appears in its 2017 Form 990, when it spent $2 million on “other salaries and wages,” a sizable chunk of its $6.2 million in functional expenses, despite top staff only earning $208,375. In 2016, it spent $3.1 million on this category, out of $10.5 million in functional expenses, though its leadership only earned $222,528. And, out of its $8.6 million in functional expenses in 2015, it spent $2.5 million on “other salaries and wages” while leadership compensation totaled $217,826. 

Bill Gothard
Bill Gothard

An anomaly occurred in 2014, which incidentally marked a significant shakeup for the IBLP. When victims came forward alleging sexual harassment and abuse, Gothard was placed under administrative leave and then resigned shortly thereafter.

The Form 990 for that year shows IBLP spent $2 million on compensation to “disqualified persons,” and Gothard’s name wasn’t included in the list of key employees who collectively earned $217,193. (For reference, the IRS defines a disqualified person as “any person who was in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the applicable tax-exempt organization at any time during the lookback period.”)

Unlike previous years, the “other salaries and wages” category that dominated its later spending patterns totaled $0, and it reported $125,573 in “other employee benefits” and $186,784 in “payroll taxes.” 

Comparatively, Gothard earned $25,322 in 2013, far less than the other two key employees at that time. Despite the top three staff members (including Gothard) earning $157,102, the “other salaries and wages” expense accounted for $1.7 million of its $8.9 million in functional expenses for that year. Similar patterns occurred in 2012 and 2011 and 2010, despite no payroll taxes, pension plan contributions or other employee benefits being listed for those years. 

Current Financials Unknown

The IBLP’s current financial status is unclear, as its post-2018 Form 990s are not publicly available. The organization’s balance sheet appears in good condition, totaling $60.8 million in assets and $1.2 million in liabilities in 2018. 

Albeit not a Form 990, the IBLP has previously provided a 2019 financial statement for MinistryWatch’s database. Its 2019 data reveals similar revenue and expense patterns as covered above. Of the $4.5 million it earned that year, “total other revenue” accounted for $3.8 million, while $2.1 million came from program services and only $680,106 from contributions. “Management and general” expenses accounted for $3.1 million out of its $7.1 million in total expenses, while program services claimed $4 million. 

It has since closed its distance learning education arm, Telos Institute International, but other programs remain operational, including its Advanced Training Institute home education program, International ALERT Academy youth training program, Family Conferences events, and Embassy Media library of seminars and materials. 

This story was originally published at Ministry Watch.

Shannon Cuthrell is a journalist with a background covering business, technology and economic development. She has written for Business North Carolina magazine, WRAL TechWire, Charlotte Inno and EE Power, among other publications.

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9 thoughts on “Bill Gothard Institute Faces Uncertain Financial Future”

  1. This guy is about as theologically/biblically sound as Joseph Smith and he’s done nearly as much damage in the late 1900s/early 2000s. MacArthur, Hinn, Osteen, Spong etc. may be deeply problematic but Gothard owns them all in the perniciousness of his heresy and his cult dominionism. Gothard is Ravi Zacharias x Jim Jones x Muhammad. Anyone in evangelicalism who continues to take him seriously is either exceptionally ignorant and naive, or never was saved to begin with.

    1. Ronald K Denlinger

      Lots of problems there to be sure, and yes it is absolutely time to learn from this (the potential lessons are many), cut all ties, continue to call for repentance, etc., but comparisons to Smith, Jones and Muhammad seem a bit extreme don’t you think? The problem with such hyperbole is manifold. For one, it negates the opening statement of the article — the truth is that, at the beginning especially, many evangelicals benefitted. Don’t think you can say the same of Joseph Smith for example.

      1. Ronald K Denlinger,

        I don’t care about who “benefited” from an adulterous cult leader–I care that serpents that were never really of us to begin with are enslaving people with a pernicious and dark “gospel” of works and shame. But yes, you absolutely CAN say that some people have benefited from Joseph Smith–certainly traditionalist LDS have lovely wholesome families and conservative values that many real Christians could learn from. Does that mean it’s a good thing that Mormonism exists?

  2. Well…My disillusionment is now complete. When I was a new beleiver back in the late 80s I was taken to these conferences by my church and blown away by the perfection and excellence and comprehensiveness of it all. But honestly it always haunted me too. I was sure I could never live these standards successfully in my life in order to have Gods best as they portrayed it. Gothard seemed like the guy that was above all forms of corruption. He seemed like a Christian straight out of Leave it To Beaver. He did not lust or covet anything…or so it seemed. He had an answer for EVERYTHING. Heck, Even Dawson McAllister bowed to him. The man who was never married told me I needed to have 12 children in order to shoot godly arrows into the world.
    Now it seems it was all headed for destruction. Just a well packaged toxic sham.

  3. I do recall some mention in the past regarding behavior of his brother, and Bill Gothard’s unwillingness to deal with the behavior. The information came from a reliable pastor friend of ours.

    1. Great Link Mark. The IBLP is functionally a cult and the sooner Christians realize this,and consign the works of Gothard to the dusbin of history the better.

  4. Thomas Williamson

    In my opinion, the basic Bill Gothard principle of “chain of command” is mistaken and unscriptural, as applied to church leadership. It’s a system of people control. It appeals to control freaks and to those who feel the need to be controlled, but I don’t see anything about it in the New Testament, which emphasizes Christian liberty, and teaches that leaders are not to exercise dominion but rather be servants, Matthew 20:25-27. Now would be a good time for all Bible-believing Christians to disassociate themselves from the ministries founded by Gothard, and let them die out.

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