Seeking to revitalize its troubled finances, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced a five-year campaign Saturday to build a $50 million endowment, the first such fundraising effort the civil rights organization has attempted.
“Never again will the NAACP find itself in or near financial ruin,” the organization’s president, Kweisi Mfume, told delegates at its board meeting in New York City Saturday.
“Never again,” he added, “should this organization be dependent on the whims or the desires of others who may give money and pull strings, and may not like what we say.”
The fund-raising drive comes in the wake of a spate of widely publicized financial scandals and years of internecine power struggles that have hurt the NAACP’s recruitment and damaged it clout as the country’s oldest and best known civil rights organization. Indeed, the situation was so perilous in recent years some members feared that the organization’s very existence was threatened.
Mfume was elected executive director last year after the organization ousted his predecessor, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis Jr., for having used its money to settle a suit accusing him of sex discrimination and sexual harassment. That crisis was followed by the ouster of William F. Gibson, its board chairman, for having spent the organization’s money as his own, contributing to the organization’s swelling debt, which eventually totaled nearly $5 million.
The executive director’s speech is always a highlight of the annual board meeting, but this year’s address was widely viewed as especially important because of news reports of growing unease within the organization over the direction Mfume has taken it in recent months.
The delegates were mannerly, even a bit restrained as Mfume began has address, but by the time he completed his revival-style speech an hour later, cheers and foot-stomping passion flowed through the hall.
The executive director drew particularly strong applause when he attacked critics of his leadership within the organization, whom he depicted as hypocritical. He vowed to practice tolerance toward those who challenged him, but he also said he would not shrink from challenging them.
“We will bring you in with open arms and will feed you and make you part of the family,” Mfume said, “But at the end of the day, if you say another bad word, your bad word will be challenged. We’re not going to let you heap criticism on us and walk away.”
Later, at a news conference Saturday, Mfume announced not only that the organization’s $5 million debt had been erased, but also that it now has a $2 million surplus.
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