Kanakuk Financial Statements Reveal “Suspicious” Pattern of Self-Dealing

By Warren Cole Smith
Joe & Debbie-Jo White
Joe & Debbie-Jo White, directors of Kanakuk Kamp in Branson, Missouri.

An analysis of the financial statements by MinistryWatch, with the assistance of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, reveals what the Trinity Foundation calls a “suspicious” pattern of self-dealing between Kanakuk Ministries and founder “Coach” Joe White and his family.

Kanakuk Ministries in Branson, Missouri, is one of the largest Christian camps in the United States.  Each summer, it serves more than 20,000 children from around the country.  Its fiscal year 2017 revenue topped $35-million.

In fact, Kanakuk is part of an inter-related web of at least nine non-profit organizations and 10 for-profit organizations, all owned or controlled by Joe White and his wife Debbie-Jo White.

A quick look at the 2017 Form 990 for Kanakuk Ministries (for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2018, the latest available) suggests that Joe and Debbie-Jo White receive modest salaries.  Joe White’s salary was $36,844 and Debbie-Jo White’s salary was $39,864.

However, these numbers tell only a fraction of the story.  A closer examination of the Form 990 reveals that Kanakuk Ministries rents a portion of its property from Kukorp LLC.  In the 2017 tax year, Kanakuk paid Kukorp $166,481.  Kukorp LLC is “wholly owned by Debbie-Jo White.”  The rental arrangement is part of a 2008 agreement that specified a “50-year lease with a 50-year option.”

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Kanakuk Ministries also rents property from K-Land One LLC.  This entity is “wholly owned by Joe and Debbie-Jo White.”  Kanakuk paid $144,296 to K-Land One.  It too enjoys a “50 year lease with a 50-year option.”

According to John Jensen, the Chief Business Officer for Kanakuk Ministries, “All the land tied to this lease [with Kukorp] will revert to Kanakuk upon the death of Joe and Debbie-Jo White.”

And in addition to their salaries, Debbie-Jo White receives an additional $142,738 in what is simply called “compensation.”  Joe White receives an additional $41,909 in “compensation.”  If you add up all these numbers, Kanakuk Ministries paid the Whites, or entities wholly owned by the Whites, $572,132 in 2017.

And 2017 was not unique.  The individual numbers vary from year to year, but between 2014 and 2017, Kanakuk paid the Whites or entities owned by the Whites about $2.62-million.

Such payments may not be illegal, but they are unusual.  The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) does not prohibit such arrangements, but it does strongly discourage them, even when they might benefit the organization itself.  ECFA Standard 6 includes the following: “Certain related-party transactions may clearly be advantageous to, and in the economic benefit of, the organization. However, even if a transaction is economically beneficial to an organization, it may raise a public perception of questionable integrity or create a perception of self-dealing and, thus, should be avoided.”

The Kanakuk’s Form 990 claims that these transactions were done in compliance with Kanakuk’s “Conflict of Interest Policy and Procedure.” But even if that’s true, those policies were implemented by a board of directors that the White family controls.  Kanakuk’s board appears to have has just seven directors, with three of them being Whites:  Joe, Debbie-Jo, and their son Cooper.  Another director, Doug Goodwin, is the current president of Kanakuk, and is therefore also not independent.  Jensen said the transactions were approved by a vote of the independent board members.

The ECFA’s Standard 2 requires members to have at least five members, “a majority of whom shall be independent.”  Kanakuk is not in compliance with this standard.  It is perhaps for these reasons that Kanakuk Ministries is not a member of the ECFA.

Again, while these arrangements do not prove illegality, they do raise concerns about “private inurement,” which is against the law.  According to BoardSource, “Private inurement…happens when an insider — an individual who has significant influence over the organization — enters into an arrangement with the nonprofit and receives benefits greater than she or he provides in return. The most common example is excessive compensation, which the IRS condemns through Intermediate Sanctions, significant excise taxes. Insiders — referred to in IRS parlance as ‘disqualified persons’ — can be high-level managers, board members, founders, major donors, highest paid employees, family members of the above, and a business where the listed persons own more than 35 percent of an interest.”

Scrutiny of Kanakuk has intensified following the release of recent articles by MinistryWatch (republished here) and The Dispatch outlining a history of sexual abuse, lawsuits, and multi-million dollar settlements against Kanakuk or staff members.  Kanakuk leaders say these problems are behind it and it has implemented strong youth protection procedures at the camp.  However, it is impossible to verify the contention that Kanakuk’s troubles are in the past because many of the victims are bound by non-disclosure agreements.  A new website, FactsAboutKanakuk.com, backed by victims and victim advocates, includes a petition drive to get victims released from their non-disclosure agreements.

warren cole smithWarren Cole Smith is president of MinistryWatch.com, a donor watchdog group. Prior to that, Smith was Vice President-Mission Advancement for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  



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9 thoughts on “Kanakuk Financial Statements Reveal “Suspicious” Pattern of Self-Dealing”

  1. Are the Whites related to James MacDonald? They set up their finances the same way (pay themselves multiple ways).

    1. We should compare to see if there are some inter-relationships with these “ministries”. Who is in their inner circles that overlap? Who is setting these organizations up? We might find some surprises behind the curtain.

      1. I do not doubt that for a second. There are certainly insiders working together to do whatever they can to make each other more famous and more wealthy. It is an elite group and newbies will have to kiss up to it somewhere and somehow in order in order to get access to Mammon and the praise of men that they so severely covet. A guy who runs a summer camp charity who gets so rich that he can afford his own private jet, only in America could such a ridiculous leveraging of so called charitable funds could happen.

          1. The CEO of Southwest Airlines made just shy of $8.7 million last year. https://www1.salary.com/SOUTHWEST-AIRLINES-Executive-Salaries.html. That is just a tad over the $0.5 million garnered by the White family. The article should have listed the fair market value of the rent collected by the White family on the property.
            Self-dealing? Sure. But if Kanakuk paid a fair rent, then that takes much of the sting out of the impropriety. I know little or nothing of Joe White. But your post is slander. Calling White a leech and claiming virtue toward the consumer for a guy making 16 times what the White family makes is awful.

      2. Aren’t evangelicals fun

        The evangelicals industrial complex feeds off each other in lifting up each other for profit and on TV blogs etc etc. all part of the EIC mostly family run and all covering each other’s sins all for glory of THERE version of GOD. Remember all you need to do is fake it while you make. And jesusssss isssss lorrrrrrd. There where’s my cut

    1. Grifters among gods people

      Because they convince the sheep if you go against them your going against god because they are a profit err prophet of god. Very sick and twisted. But very profitable. All the sheep need to ask honestly is if Jesus would approve. The answer is always no and that hot me running from these grifters. I don’t need someone who gave THEMSELVES titles of reverend or apostle or deacon etc etc to learn gods word. Neither do you.


    Yes… Errr… NO…“Titles.” AAAARRRRGGGHHH !!!
    “I don’t need someone
    who gave THEMSELVES titles of
    reverend or apostle or deacon etc etc
    to learn gods word.

    In the Bible…
    NOT one of His Disciples took the “Title” pastor.
    Or shepherd. Or leader. Or reverend.

    Job 32:21-22 KJV
    Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person,
    neither let me give “Flattering Titles” unto man.
    For I know not to give “Flattering Titles;”
    in so doing my maker would soon take me away.

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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