NAACP drops its fund-raiser

June 21, 1995|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

Despite the need to pay off $3.8 million in debts, the NAACP has dismissed its longtime fund-raiser -- who is now one of the group's major creditors.

Gilbert Jonas, who had worked under contract with the NAACP since 1965, said yesterday that the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group owes him more than $394,000. Mr. Jonas, who closed his New York office last week, said he would file suit to collect.

Mr. Jonas charged that officials at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "spoon-fed" him token payments so he would continue to raise funds -- money he says was mismanaged.

NAACP officials said they ended the Gilbert Jonas Co.'s five-year contract to cut costs.

"If you can't pay the man, there's no sense keeping him," said Fred H. Rasheed, the NAACP's economic development director. "We're already into him for quite a bit of money."

NAACP Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams said through a spokeswoman that the NAACP would "intensify its internal fund-raising efforts" through its network of 2,200 units nationwide. She said the branches traditionally account for 70 percent of NAACP income.

The spokeswoman, Felicia Kessel, said the organization hoped to select a new fund-raiser "very shortly." She said the NAACP didn't dispute the amount it owes Mr. Jonas and expected to work out a schedule to pay him and other creditors.

The Baltimore-based NAACP is reducing its staff by nearly a third and trimming almost all programs except its three-person Washington bureau. Mr. Rasheed, whose office was slated for cuts, is resigning effective next month. About 22 employees are being laid off.

Mr. Jonas, who said he had offered to cut his fees by $330,000 over the next two years, said he believed the NAACP board's decision last month to make deep cuts would backfire. He said the NAACP would lose desperately needed funds while it revamped its fund-raising operation and would lack a strong enough civil rights presence to lure donors.

"I think they've committed suicide," said Mr. Jonas, 64, who joined the NAACP in 1949 while he was a student campaigning to integrate Stanford University. "I hope I'm wrong because if I'm right, I'll never get paid. Maybe one day there will be an NAACP again, and the rank and file will get what they deserve."

Mr. Jonas' company raised $6.1 million in 1994, down from $7.3 million the year before, as allegations of financial mismanagement against then-Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and Chairman William F. Gibson cut deeply into foundation and direct-mail giving.

Meanwhile, the NAACP lived way beyond its means in 1994, according to documents circulated at last month's Baltimore board meeting. The group spent nearly $2.6 million more than it took in, even though Dr. Chavis was fired from his $200,000-a-year job in August, his top aides were dismissed, and the staff was on unpaid furlough for much of the fall.

Mr. Jonas said his fees and expenses generally amounted to less than 20 percent of what was raised, but 1994's subpar results drove them up to almost 24 percent.

He said the NAACP's corporate and foundation donations are down sharply this year. For the first year since 1968, the Carnegie Corp. did not give the NAACP a grant, said Avery Russell, program officer at the New York-based foundation. She said Carnegie generally doesn't make grants for debt reduction.

In three decades as the NAACP's fund-raiser, Mr. Jonas dramatically expanded the group's corporate campaign and began a direct-mail drive to recruit "members at large."

The Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, who headed the NAACP from 1977 to 1993, said he wouldn't "second-guess" the decision to drop Mr. Jonas, but he said: "I don't think I could have made it without him. He was an invaluable asset."

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