IT APPEARED during his inauguration in February that the biggest challenge facing new NAACP President Kweisi Mfume would be returning the 87-year-old civil rights organization to fiscal solvency. He has done that in eight months, erasing a $3.2 million debt. Past mismanagement and extravagance had nearly caused the death of one of this nation's most valued institutions.
There was no magic in Mr. Mfume's formula to pull the NAACP out of poverty. He took common-sense steps, reducing a staff that once numbered 125 to 40 employees, negotiating with creditors to lower the debt and turning profits of $700,000 at the organization's July convention and $400,000 on the televised NAACP Image Awards. The Image Awards previously had cost the NAACP $1.4 million over four years.
Mr. Mfume's financial acumen is impressive, so much so that his projection of a $900,000 surplus in next year's $12.6 million budget seems modest. The new CEO has shown past supporters of the NAACP that they no longer need to fear investing in an organization that had been brought to the edge of bankruptcy by its spendthrift past under William F. Gibson and Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
Fund-raising will continue to be a key part of Mr. Mfume's job. He hopes to establish a $50 million endowment with a five-year campaign set to begin in January. Now he can turn more of his attention to the battle against racism during a time when more and more people are questioning affirmative-action solutions.
He also has to get the NAACP's house in order. Some bitterness remains after the internal struggle that led to the firing of Mr. Chavis and Mr. Gibson's re-election defeat. The relationship between the NAACP and other black organizations such as the Nation of Islam must be made clear. The firing of NAACP officials in New York and New Jersey who criticized school integration is indicative of differing opinions about the NAACP's mission. More must be done to attract young people.
Mr. Mfume continues to build on the confidence in him that those who knew the former Maryland congressman already had. The survival of the NAACP is no longer in question.
Pub Date: 10/24/96