NAACP priority: Money $3 million debt forces group to focus on fund raising

August 28, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ann LoLordo contributed to this article.

Before the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. took over the NAACP nearly 17 months ago, the adjective that haunted reports about the civil rights group was "irrelevant."

Now that Dr. Chavis has been fired and auditors are poring over the Baltimore-based organization's books, a new adjective threatens to be applied: "insolvent."

With the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People more than $3 million in debt, board members, interim managers and NAACP-watchers agree the first order of business is to restore confidence and raise money.

"If it means biting the bullet and cutting to the bone, we've got to do it. There's no room for any fat," said Joseph E. Madison, who was a leading Chavis critic on the NAACP board.

The NAACP's biggest internal battle has ended just as its key moneymaking season is about to begin, said Gilbert Jonas, whose New York company handles the group's fund raising.

"You raise half your money in the last four months of the year," Mr. Jonas said. "It's not enough to raise what we normally raise. We must raise money to work down the debt.

"The most important factors are re-establishing our credibility with people and reaffirming our integrity," he said.

The NAACP board voted 53-5 on Aug. 20 to oust Dr. Chavis after it learned he secretly had committed the civil rights group to pay Mary E. Stansel, a fired aide, up to $332,400 to ward off a threatened lawsuit. She accused him in court of sexually harassing her, which he denies.

Coincidentally, a fund-raising appeal carrying Dr. Chavis' signature was mailed to thousands of at-large NAACP members about 10 days before the 46-year-old executive director was fired. Prospective donors would have received it as the drama was nearing its climax.

Mr. Jonas said the bulk of the NAACP's $18 million budget comes from membership dues, individual contributions and Freedom Fund dinners. Corporate and foundation gifts and grants totaled about $5.2 million in 1993, according to financial statements.

"Contrary to popular belief, the NAACP has always been predominantly supported by African-Americans," he said.

The two NAACP veterans given the job of picking up the pieces from the Chavis controversy have handled the grass-roots and corporate sides of NAACP support.

Earl T. Shinhoster, interim senior administrator, is the NAACP national field secretary and former Southeast regional director. He knows the civil rights group's 2,208 local branches, youth councils and college chapters as well as anyone, NAACP insiders say.

His assistant, Fred H. Rasheed, is the organization's economic development chief, in charge of administering 61 corporate "fair-share" agreements on hiring and promotion of African-Americans.

The interim management team has announced a drive to raise money and attract members.

James Daniel, a board member from Sidney, Ohio, said he had put out the call to all NAACP branches in his state to send money to the national office.

"We're $3.5 million in the red in relation to our budget. We are scraping the barrel to recuperate from that," he said.

One question is whether the NAACP can restore confidence with Dr. William F. Gibson as chairman of the board. Dr. Gibson, a Greenville, S.C., dentist who has been chairman since 1985, staunchly supported Dr. Chavis until distancing himself in the two weeks before the firing.

"I don't think anybody is going to give Dr. Gibson a dime," said Jewell Jackson McCabe, founder and chairman of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Ms. McCabe competed with Dr. Chavis to be executive director and lost.

But anti-Gibson sentiment on the board appears to have cooled for now as members seek an end to the turmoil that has beset the NAACP for the past month.

"People were just overwhelmed by this thing," said Hazel N. Dukes, a New York board member. "They were reeling and rocking. For the last three weeks people have been tense and wondering what's going to happen. We have to turn our attention to our finances and our program activities across this country."

Dr. Gibson faces re-election in February. In the meantime, while shoring up NAACP finances, the board must reach a severance agreement with Dr. Chavis. He has sued for reinstatement on the grounds that the manner of his dismissal violated NAACP bylaws.

"The quicker the Chavis piece is put to rest, the more secure [Dr. Gibson's] position becomes," said Carl O. Snowden, an Annapolis civil rights activist and NAACP member.

The 64-member board also must begin the search for a new executive director. Board members will confront the challenge of finding a leader who is an effective financial manager and a personality capable of recruiting young members.

"The executive director is not only charged with making pretty speeches and motivating people, he is charged with looking at ** the balance sheets -- keeping the organization on course and in the black," said Kelly M. Alexander Jr., a Charlotte, N.C., board member.

Mr. Madison said the board wants much of Dr. Chavis' direction -- reaching out to young and disaffected blacks -- to continue, minus what he regards as a few excesses, such as a secret meeting in April with black nationalists.

"Unfortunately, Dr. Chavis gave the impression that the board selected him and then he dictated the direction. It was just the opposite," the board member said. "In most cases he followed the course laid out by the board."

The two tendencies, button-down management and fiery leadership, may be equally important ingredients in the NAACP's financial future.

"Despite Chavis' judgment and mistakes, there's no question that getting more young people involved in the organization has a long-term benefit," Mr. Snowden said. "It's called survival."

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