NAACP trims debt but still struggles

September 14, 1995|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

The financially troubled NAACP has trimmed its debt somewhat, but the organization still is struggling to raise enough money to meet day-to-day expenses, Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams said yesterday.

"We are not out of our financial crisis. We are making progress, but it's very slow," Mrs. Evers-Williams said in a telephone interview from New York, where she was raising funds.

The chairwoman told listeners of a Monday night radio address delivered in Pittsburgh that "without your financial generosity, without your continued donations, the NAACP could well have to close its doors before the end of the year."

Yesterday, Mrs. Evers-Williams said that her radio appeal, broadcast on 110 stations of the American Urban Radio Networks, was "a statement of urgency," but not an indication that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's situation had deteriorated. She said no more staff cuts were expected.

"I don't want the staff to panic, but I do want the truth out there: We still need financial assistance," she said.

The nation's oldest and largest civil rights group, based in Baltimore, has been in a financial crisis for more than a year, a period of unprecedented upheaval in which Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was fired and Chairman William F. Gibson was defeated by Mrs. Evers-Williams. Both former leaders were accused of reckless spending.

The NAACP now has an acting chief financial officer from the Price Waterhouse accounting firm; tighter controls on spending, and a 51-member staff that has been cut in half since the financial crisis began.

Mrs. Evers-Williams said the new financial team discovered that the NAACP's debt had reached nearly $4.8 million, higher than previously estimated. She said that the debt has been cut to about $3.5 million, but that the public seemed to have the mistaken impression that the NAACP had overcome its financial difficulties.

The chairwoman said that if supporters would send just a $1 contribution, "there's no reason why we can't wipe out that debt and start an endowment and operate on a tight budget with their contributions."

The NAACP fired its longtime fund-raiser, Gilbert Jonas, this summer and has not sent out any direct-mail appeals for contributions since May.

The organization settled last month a lawsuit brought by Mr. Jonas and agreed to pay him $394,000 in fees over a two-year period.

Mrs. Evers-Williams said the new fund-raiser, Craver, Matthews, Smith & Co. of Falls Church, Va., would send out a mailing within a week or so.

The NAACP has been without an executive director since Dr. Chavis was fired in August 1994. A seven-member search committee is slated to recommend a replacement to the board of directors next month in Baltimore.

"I don't even know who the names are," Mrs. Evers-Williams said. "It's held that closely by that committee, and that's the way I want it. In the past, the search committee was very large, and there was a tremendous amount of politics involved in the selection process."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Evers-Williams, 62, who serves as a volunteer, has followed a busy schedule of fund-raising banquets, speeches at NAACP state conventions and visits to Baltimore headquarters. Between late April and late November, she will have spent two weeks at home in Bend, Ore., with her black Labrador retriever, Sugar.

"My life belongs to the NAACP. I'm not complaining. But I am exhausted," she said. "I'm in a position where not everyone will be satisfied because I can't answer every letter nor can I return every call. These are things that should be done. But it's not humanly possible for me to do, and we're short of staff at headquarters."

Despite her tiring schedule, Mrs. Evers-Williams said she would run for re-election as chairwoman in February because "I don't feel I can simply walk away from the position of chair until I personally feel we are more secure financially and administratively than we are now."

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