When Kweisi Mfume officially took the helm of the NAACP last February, the former Maryland congressman had two immediate tasks. One was to revive lagging interest in the civil rights organization. The other more tangible problem was to eliminate a long-standing $3.2 million debt, and submit a balanced budget to the national board of directors to help put the NAACP back in the black for the first time in years. While the verdict is still out on the first problem, Mfume recently announced that the organization expected to have its first budget surplus by the end of 1996.
With a cash influx from last year’s national convention and annual Image Awards ceremony–which brought in $900,000 and $400,000, respectively– Mfume says he was also able to pull in $1 million through contributions. Several contributors donated $100,000, while another group of investors, including Black Enterprise, Essence, Ebony and Burrell Communications, formed a consortium that gave $125,000.
“I went to everyone I could find to get contributions,” says Mfume. “I believe that people are willing to invest because they saw that we were serious about taking care of our problems and getting back on track.”
The organization also renegotiated some of the contracts and leases on a number of their offices across the country, worked with creditors to secure the lowest possible interest rates on the money owed and sought an increased volume of $15, $25 and $50 donations.
“The fact that the NAACP has retired its debt is more of a psychological than a tangible shift,” says Professor Alvin Thornton, chairman of the Howard University Political Science Department. “Now they can begin to be perceived as dealing with substantive issues, instead of internal fiscal crises.