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Rudderless At The Naacp


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RUDDERLESS AT THE NAACP

Two months ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was still reeling from the August ouster of its executive director, the Reverend Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. Chavis, who had pledged $330,000 of the group's funds to an out-of-court settlement in a sexual-harassment suit, left the NAACP with a deficit now pegged at $4 million. The financially strapped organization had to furlough 80 workers, and, unable to pay its bills, couldn't even get access to a computerized list of contributors maintained by outside vendors. "We had no resources to even raise money by direct mail," says Gilbert Jonas, the group's chief fund-raiser.

But the venerable civil-rights organization wasn't left to die. On Nov. 18, the Ford Foundation released a $250,000 grant it had held up during the Chavis controversy; the same day, the NAACP announced a nine-point recovery plan, meant to encourage other donors. On Nov. 22, 16 Christian and Jewish organizations pledged to raise $5 million--a hefty chunk of the NAACP's $15 million annual budget. And on Dec. 6, CEOs will take their checkbooks to the group's annual corporate fund-raiser in New York, which is expected to match last year's $300,000 in donations. "We're on an upward climb," says Earl T. Shinhoster, the group's interim senior administrator.

Still, the NAACP is far from stable. The 85-year-old institution now is searching for direction. While many younger blacks are disenchanted with what they view as a stodgy outfit, Chavis' efforts to attract them by forging links with black separatists angered older members who fear a departure from the NAACP's integrationist tradition. With three-quarters of its funding coming from members, the NAACP's long-term viability depends on finding a niche acceptable to all generations.

DRILLED? Some insiders say a major housecleaning is imperative. Dissidents are mounting a campaign against Chairman Dr. William F. Gibson, a Greenville (S.C.) dentist who has headed the board since 1985. "I hold him responsible for much of the organization's difficulties," says Julian Bond, a veteran leader who is running for a board seat in December. He and other dissidents aim to draft Myrlie Evers, widow of slain civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, to replace Gibson at their annual meeting in February. Gibson, who is recovering from an illness, couldn't be reached for comment.

A leadership change could reassure business donors. The NAACP is less than $1 million shy of its $5 million goal for corporate and foundation fund-raising, Jonas says. But "it has been a little more difficult to get corporate support," concedes Toys `R' Us Inc. Chief Executive Michael Goldstein, a top fund-raiser.

In the end, though, winning back the confidence of members is key. "We need an organization that is going to speak to the needs of black people," says Bishop Frank J. Ellis of the Church of God in Christ, one group that has pledged support. Now, the NAACP must figure out exactly what those needs are.Catherine Yang in Washington


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