As with the Red Cross, an unwieldy board structure chews up and spits out executive directors. It will take an act of Congress to fix the Red Cross board, but there's no rescue in sight for the NAACP.
Bruce Gordon announced his resignation from the NAACP (EIN 13-1084135 Form 990) after having served just nineteen months. Here is some of the coverage, which duly notes the differences between Mr. Gordon and Board Chair Julian Bond about advocacy versus social programs.
- Washington Post (Darryl Fears) NAACP President Quits, Cites Conflicts
- LA Times (Tom Hamburger & Stuart Silverstein) Gordon Resigns as Head of NAACP
- AP (Erin Texeira) NAACP Determined to Focus on Activism
- NY Times (Raymond Hernandez) President is Leaving NAACP
- Baltimore Sun (Kelly Brewington) NAACP, Leader Viewed as Mismatch
But the suddenness of the annoucement and Mr. Gordon's quick departure (before the end of this month) signals that this was not a friendly parting of ways. The most telling comment to me was related by Julian Bond to DeWayne Wickham, blogging for USA Today:
"Where I come from in the non-profit world, the board of directors runs the organization," Bond told me. "At times there were clashes between what he thought we should be doing, and what we thought we should be doing — and I guess he found that intolerable.
Mr. Bond is comfortable with the 64-member board dominated by the local chapters calling the shots, but I don't see how the organization will be able to find a present-day executive who will be willing to work under those conditions. I think most executives of the boomer generation believe that the chief board function is to hire an executive and then give them room, providing oversight and policy, but not specific direction. As we have discussed, the Red Cross special panel on governance reached the conclusion that to achieve a model of this sort, the board needs to be smaller, in the twelve to twenty member range (Red Cross Lights a Fire under Congress for Reforms, November 1, 2006).
That being said, I happen to agree with Mr. Bond and not Mr. Gordon that the direction of the NAACP should not be to engage in social programs. With total spending of $27 million, the NAACP is large for an advocacy organization, but far from the scale needed for a nationwide social service program. And it already dilutes its efforts with numerous programs that have to be a challenge to coordinate, as shown in the table on the right (click to view).
It is noteworthy that after field operations, the largest program area is the NAACP convention and another media event, the image awards, is among the top five programs. The media events keep the NAACP in the national spotlight and maintain its brand. DeWayne Wickham reports that the membership has dropped from 368,787 members in 1990 to 278,275 in 2004, but in today's world, warm bodies are not as significant as media exposure (and membership is just 15% of total income).
So the NAACP seems destined to become a nonprofit media icon from another era, sort of like the Jerry Lewis Telethon for MDA, for as long as the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s want to keep it going. The contrast with the Red Cross is this: 9/11 and Katrina both seriously damaged the reputation of the organization, which created external pressure for change at the Red Cross. But there's no comparable external pressure on the NAACP. Without that pressure, there won't be board changes, and without a change of board, the organization will be stuck in the status quo.