NAACP reports a shortfall in budget at annual meeting

Baltimore headquarters has had to restructure some staff positions

February 20, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The NAACP reported at its annual meeting yesterday a 2004 budget shortfall of $4.7 million, which has forced leadership at its Baltimore headquarters to ask 12 staff members to move to lower-paying jobs or be forced out.

While many board members insist that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in good financial health and that job restructuring is not hurting morale at the Baltimore office, others say it is a sign of significant challenges for a group at a crossroads.

"We are concerned about the future of this organization," said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, during yesterday's meeting of several hundred members and staff at the New York Hilton Hotel.

Mondesire said he and other branch presidents are sending a letter to board members describing their worries. "I see the financial predicament we are in, and I also know we have had layoffs of our national staff."

The organization budgeted and spent $28.9 million last year. Income was $24.2 million. The deficit was covered with reserve funds.

Uncertain time

It has been a time of uncertainty at the NAACP since November, when Kweisi Mfume stepped down after nearly nine years as president.

The group is fighting an Internal Revenue Service audit that could cost it its tax-exempt status. Such a loss would threaten fund raising because donors often count on a tax deduction when giving to the group. The IRS inquiry alleges that Julian Bond, board chairman of the organization, inappropriately interfered in a political campaign when he gave a stinging criticism of the Bush administration in a speech last summer.

Meanwhile, membership has remained stagnant at a reported 500,000 members, although some skeptics within the organization say actual membership is lower.

"I'd say it's anywhere between 250,000 and 500,000, but no one seems to know for sure," said James Griffin, past president of the NAACP's Connecticut state conference and member of the group's membership committee. "We need to be more focused on membership growth and redefining our issues."

Cost cutting

Bond said it was the first time "in many years" that the NAACP reported a deficit. He said the Baltimore office, supervised by interim President Dennis Hayes, is cutting costs by eliminating some positions and shifting staff to other posts.

NAACP Treasurer Francisco Borges said that after using reserve funds on the deficit, the group had about $13 million remaining in assets, about half of which is reserved for scholarships and an endowment.

"Although the 2004 results were disappointing, we hope with this revised budget and staffing changes, we can do everything we can to make sure 2005 comes in line" with projections, he said.

Hayes said that several weeks ago he asked six staffers to change positions within the Baltimore office. All but one, who was given an undisclosed severance package, stayed at the organization.

Then, last week, another six were asked to take different positions.

Hayes would not say which departments were affected.

"We want to have a happy and satisfied staff, but we will do whatever it takes to make sure we don't continue to have a deficit," Bond said.

Leadership stressed that the NAACP is not close to the financial straits of a decade ago, when the NAACP was $3 million in the red.

Bond said the group will be spending more on fund raising, an investment he hopes eventually will make up for the loss in revenue.

"I don't want to say on the one hand that everything is rosy," Bond said. "But we don't want to say we're closing our doors either. We are confident we will be back on solid financial footing by the end of the year."

The NAACP's financial problems underscored the longtime struggle of stagnant membership. Sprinkled among the meeting's reports on health disparities and efforts to end police brutality were loud pleas for new members.

Nothing seemed to generate more cheers than when a branch president announced an addition of members (and revenue) no matter how small.

`It's about members'

"We are at a serious time now," said board member Hazel Dukes, as she announced a pledge that every board member recruit 100 members by April. "It's about members, and it's about money."

Despite the uncertainty at the NAACP, Bond remained steadfast in his optimism for the group and his disdain for certain Bush policies. His speech at the meeting denounced Bush's decision to invade Iraq and his plan to privatize Social Security - one of five major issues the NAACP pledged to fight this year.

"We were being audited, the IRS said, because in my speech at our convention in July, I had condemned the president's economic, education and war policies," he said during his speech.

"And that's just what I did. That's the job of the board chairman of the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization."

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