Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Over its 100+ year history The NAACP has grown exponentially to what is now a network of more than 2,200 affiliates covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and Germany. Total membership exceeds 500,000.
The NAACP is established as a 501(C)(3) and as such “because of the law and long term NAACP policy, NAACP units do not engage in partisan political activity. However, the NAACP has a long… history of engaging in nonpartisan voter registration and get out the vote efforts.” But the organization has at times faced criticism and investigations for being notably one-sided against Republicans.
The NAACP is a $29 million per year multi-organization non-profit, focused on lobbying, civic engement, and field operations. However, in recent years, as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement proliferated, the NAACP has struggled to rebrand itself against claims that the group had become outdated and ultimately irrelevant. The group’s recently president, Cornell William Brooks, sought to use anti-Trump opposition and civil disobedience as an effort to court young members. Brooks was ousted by the National NAACP Board, which is currently seeking a new leader that is better at “navigating local, regional and state policymaking processes.”
The NAACP’s “birth date” is considered to be on February 12, 1909, even though the meeting was postponed to May 30. According to John Tepper at HuffPo:
[….] the meeting was held in New York City’s Henry Street Settlement House. The 40 people in attendance called themselves at first the National Negro Committee. Harvard Professor W. E. B. Du Bois helped organize the event and presided over it. One year later, at its second conference, the membership renamed themselves the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The first officers of the group were:
National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston
Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling
Treasurer, John E. Milholland
Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard
Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer
Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois.
According to information on the NAACP’s website the NAACP has grown in waves, the group’s membership “first peaked in 1919-1920 with about 90,000 dues paying members in nearly 400 chapters” it then decreased during the 20’s and slowly grew in the 1930s. The NAACP’s membership “then exploded in the context of World War II and the Fair Employment Practices initiative.” But the Cold War of the early 1950s caused the organization’s membership to again shrink. Then during the southern civil rights fights of the mid-1950s, the organization’s membership “surged and the number of branch organizations passed the 1,000 threshold by 1977.”
In 1965, noted civil rights protest leader Bayard Rustin “argued that the coalition that had come together for the March on Washington (which included the NAACP) needed to place less emphasis on protest and focus on electing liberal Democrats who could enact a progressive policy agenda centered on employment, housing, and civil rights.” In 1993, under then President Benjamin Chavis, the NAACP converted from a “‘moderate’ civil rights group to an openly radical leftist organization.” Chavis argued, “the civil rights movement should fight aggressively against the national conservative agenda, articulating a program of progressive, democratic reforms aimed at the most disadvantaged members of society.”
In 2007, the NAACP cut its national staff by a third “because of what a spokesman described at the time as several years of falling fundraising revenues.”
From 2008 to 2013, the group saw resurgence as membership grew modestly by “about 9 percent, to a total of 221,000” meanwhile, the organization “greatly increased its advocacy and fundraising outreach” as their revenue grew from $25.7 million in 2008 to $46 million in 2012.
NAACP in the Age of Trump
The Washington Post reported that “Many NAACP critics say the organization is the embodiment of an outdated brand of suit-and-tie activism that puts too much of a premium on respectability and etiquette. Even some of the organization’s backers use words like ‘sleepy,’ ‘senior’ and ‘venerable’ to describe the 108-year-old organization.”
Anti-Trump Revitalization Effort
Throughout 2017, the NAACP has often fought against President Donald Trump and the Trump Administration. In 2017, the NAACP opposed at least four of Trump’s cabinet appointments. The group has also protested Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ speech to a historically black college. And in early 2017, six NAACP members including the NAACP’s then-President Cornell W. Brooks were arrested for trespassing in relation to a sit-in in then-Sen. Jeff Sessions office in Mobile, Alabama, to protest his nomination for Attorney General. Brooks “argued that Sessions’ ‘record suggests that he will carry on an old, ugly legacy in this country’s history.” However, the the NAACP apparently failed to recognize that its Alabama chapter had previously given Sessions a “Governmental Award of Excellence” in 2009.
The NAACP’s opposition to Sen. Sessions nomination prompted Senator Lindsey Graham to criticize the organization for its anti-Republican bias, which Sen. Graham said, “speaks for itself” and further noting, “I hope that doesn’t make us all [Republicans] racist and all of them [Democrats] perfect on the issue.”
Observers noted, that through these actions, the NAACP sought to thrust the group “to the forefront of a nascent resistance movement against President-elect Donald Trump” in an effort to “[court] affirmation from the young.” Former NAACP president Brooks, described it as a “Twitter-age civil rights movement… which includes environmental racism, the battle against the corrupting power of money in politics.”
However, Brooks’ attempts were short-lived and in May 2017, the NAACP’s board “ousted” him. NAACP Board Chairman Leon Russell said the change was “necessary to better position the organization to combat the onslaught of civil rights assaults and rollbacks the board expects under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to prepare the organization to shape the country in the next century.”
Specifically, Russell said, the board “is looking for a leader who can focus on strengthening the local chapters and navigating local, regional and state policymaking processes.” Further, he highlighted the fact that the previous president “ was good at raising the issue,” but now the group wanted someone who can, “actualize solutions.”
The group’s search for a new president is currently ongoing, “with the aim completing that process by the year’s end.” In the interim, [Chairman Russell], the organization’s national staff and local branches will maintain day-to-day operations.”
According to a 2016 NAACP Advisors Manual, “the primary focus of the NAACP is the protection and enhancement of the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities.” Further the manual claims that the organization is comprised of more than 2,200 affiliates across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and Germany. Among this network of affiliates, the NAACP claims that its total membership, which is open to anyone believing in the tenets of the NAACP, is more than 500,000.
The manual also states that the “President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP is charged with implementing the basic policies set forth by the Board of Directors” and that the President and CEO is the official spokesperson for the Association.
The NAACP Headquarters and core staff members are located in Baltimore, Maryland and “the Association’s legislative arm, the Washington Bureau, is located in the District of Columbia.”
Political Activity Related Structure
According to a 2012 NAACP campaign guidance memo on “election year dos and don’ts”:
Although NAACP units are 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, the national NAACP is a 501(c)(3) organization, which is restricted in how it can assist people in registering or getting out to vote. In addition, NAACP policy specifically prohibits units’ engagement in political campaign activity. This means that NAACP units cannot endorse or oppose candidates running for public office, make financial or in-kind contributions to candidates, political parties, or PACs, or engage in other activity that is designed or targeted to influence the outcome of any candidate election.
However, the prohibition against NAACP units being involved in political campaign activity does not mean that they have to sit out of the upcoming election. In fact, the NAACP can and does engage in a wide range of election-related activity without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status — from sponsoring voter registration drives and educating people about the issues to encouraging people to vote and giving them rides to the polls on Election Day — as long as the activity is nonpartisan.
2004 IRS Inquiry
According to the New York Times, the IRS’ letter to the NAACP, which stemmed from a notably anti-Bush speech by NAACP’s then-chairman, “reminded the association that tax-exempt organizations are legally barred from supporting or opposing any candidate for elective office.”
Ultimately, the IRS “ruled that the remarks did not violate the group’s tax-exempt status.”
Allegations of Voter Fraud
In 2011, a Mississippi member of the Tunica County NAACP Executive Committee was convicted “on 10 counts of fraudulently casting absentee ballots.” Additionally, “a worker associated with the NAACP National Voter Fund in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts for filing false voter registrations during the 2004 presidential election in exchange for crack cocaine.”
The NAACP’s 2015 Annual Report indicates that the NAACP and its affiliated organizations raised and spent approximately $29 million annually in 2014 & 2015, and had net assets of negative $500k in 2015.
|Budget Item||2015 Amount $||2014 Amount $|
|Total Support and Revenue $||$29,343,562||$28,806,135|
|Total Expenses $||$29,311,165||$29,465,984|
|Net Assets (End of Year)||-$507,140||$904,555|
The following is the revenue breakdown for the NAACP and its affiliates in 2014 and 2015:
|Support or Revenue Source||2015 Amount $||2015 % of Revenues||2014 Amount $|
|Grants, Contributions, Legacies, & Bequests||$17,441,413||59%||$13,834,577|
|Total Support and Revenues||$29,343,562||$28,806,135|
The NAACP and affiliated organizations expenses are broken down into two categories program services and support services. The support services budget in 2015 was approximately $7.5 million including $4.29 million in management expenses and $2.84 million in fundraising expenses.
A review of the NAACP and affiliates program expenses indicates that the largest part of the group’s expense budget is $4.25 million in field operations, $3.2 million for convention, and $1.99 million for the Image Awards. The following is a full breakdown of the NAACP and affiliates’ 2014 and 2015 $22 million worth of program expenses.
|Program Services||2015||Program %||2014|
|Research and Policy||$1,033,312||4.73%||$1,038,400|
|Legal Programs and Fellows||$781,845||3.58%||$1,907,315|
|Cost of Sales- Crisis Magazine||$669,571||3.06%||$626,564|
|Direct Issue Education||$420,862||1.93%||$546,485|
|Leadership 500 Summit||$412,270||1.89%||$512,650|
|Human rights and Voting Rights||$149,484||0.68%||$441,148|
According to the group’s former Chairman, the NAACP is “best known for registering and turning out large numbers of African-American voters.”
In 2016, the NAACP’s Civic Engagement plan focused on three aspects, recruiting volunteers, registering voters, and then GOTV activities. The group sought to register 300,000 voters across 17 states, specifically the group sought to micro-target “marginal turnout AA [African American] precincts with the goal of increasing their turnout by 20 percent.”
Components of the voter registration (VR) program included:
- Church Canvassing
- Door-To-Door And Site Based Neighborhood Canvassing
- 2016 State Voter Guides
- Website National Voter Registration Application
- Toll Free Hotline Number
- Phone Banking Call Centers
- Public Service Announcements
- Social Media Outreach
- VAN Based Technology Tools and Apps to Streamline the Program; and more.
In total the NAACP has spent over $1.4 million on lobbying expenses since 2012. Additionally, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (a distinct legal entity) has spent nearly $1.2 on lobbying expenses, with a variety of lobbyists.
|Year||NAACP $ Amount||NAACP Legal Defense Fund $ Amount|
Together, the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have lobbied on 1,004 bills over the past four congresses, and a total 3,233 specific reports or issues.
|Congress||# Of Bills||# Of Reports & Specific Issues|
Federal Judicial Confirmations
On February 4, 2019, the NAACP released its arguments against the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals, Neomi Rao. In the press release, the NAACP states that having Rao replace judge Brett Kavanaugh is, “going from bad to worse,” believing that she is unfit to serve judge at all because of her criticism towards affirmative action policies. In a more detailed report, the NAACP accuses Rao of “hostility to the rights of people of color” and called her a “date rape apologist” among other statements. 
In 2015, the largest portion of NAACP revenues came from grants and other bequests, accounting for over $17.4 million or 59% of all NAACP and affiliates revenues.
The NAACP listed 61 corporate donors, 20 foundations, and 7 organizations that gave the NAACP and its affiliates at least $5,000. The following organizations gave over six-figure contributions to the NAACP and its affiliates.
$1 Million and Above
Bank of America
United Parcel Service of America, Inc.
Hyundai Motor America
OCWEN Financial Corporation
Federal Express Corporation
Eli Lilly and Company
The Atlantic Philanthropies, USA
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The Coca Cola Foundation
The Open Society Institute
The Robert Wood Johnson
The Marguerite Casey Foundation
Gilead Sciences, Inc.
Northwest Area Foundation
The Energy Foundation
Philip D. Murphy Foundation
State Farm Mutual Insurance Companies
UAW International Union – Solidarity
Ford Motor Company
General Motors Corporation
Nissan North America, Inc.
UAW – GM Verizon
Leadership and People
NAACP’s recent Presidents have been
- Roy Wilkins, 1955-1977
- Benjamin L. Hooks, 1977-1992
- Benjamin F. Chavis (Muhammad), 1993-1994
- Kweisi Mfume (D-Maryland), 1996-2004
- Bruce Gordon, 2005-2007
- Ben Jealous, 2008-2013
- Rev. Cornell William Brooks 2013-May 2017
Over the years the NAACP’s Presidents have been occasionally beset by scandal. The progressive Center for American Progress noted, “Both Chavis—now known as Chavis Muhammad—and Mfume left the NAACP amid allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety while serving at the organization’s Baltimore headquarters.”
Additionally, the group’s President has clashed with the NAACP’s 64-member board of directors. In 2007, former NAACP President Bruce Gordon abruptly resigned only 19 months after taking the job due to clashes with the group’s 64-member board “over management style and differing opinions over the organization’s mission.”
In May 2017, the NAACP’s board, said by the New York Times to have been “energized by liberal activists,” voted to dismiss the organization’s president, Cornell William Brooks, after only three years, pledging a “systemwide refresh.”
Currently, the group is in the process of searching for a new leader while Leon W. Russell, the chairman of the board, and Derrick Johnson, the vice chairman, head up day-to-day operations.
Leon Russell was elected Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors in February 2017. Previously, he served as Vice Chair of the Board and has been a board member for over 27 years. He is also the former assistant secretary of the Board and the former Director of the Office of Human Rights for the Pinellas County Government from 1977-2012.
Derrick Johnson currently serves as Vice Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors. Before assuming his current roles, Mr. Johnson served as a Fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, D.C.
NAACP’s senior staff includes:
- Claudia Withers, COO
- Samuel Gaillard, CFO
- Virgil Ecton, EVP, Philanthropy.
- Peter M. Williams, EVP, Programs.
- Hillary O. Shelton, Senior VP, Dir. of NAACP Washington Bureau
- Paula Brown-Edme, VP of Field Operations
- Andrea Brown Gee, VP of Strategic Partnerships
NAACP Voter Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.