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   NATIONAL NEWS
NAACP Launches New Membership Drive; Confirms Numbers Inflated
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 6/19/2006


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The NAACP, which has claimed an inflated 500,000 members for 60 years, has announced a new membership drive to finally reach that goal.

“We’re flat. We’re not where we need to be. Civil rights should be a growth business because there are a lot of conditions in this country that require it,” says Bruce Gordon, nearing his first year as president.

For years, the NAACP has inflated its membership numbers, according to sources that have seen membership records.

The last four executive directors/presidents – Benjamin L. Hooks, Kweisi Mfume, Ben Chavis, and now Bruce Gordon – have cited a membership level of 500,000. However, sources with direct knowledge of the figures, say the actual number fluctuates between 150,000 and 250,000 members.

Gordon says he hopes the new drive will recruit at least 20,000 new members by the organization's annual convention July 25-20 in Washington, D.C.

The Baltimore Sun said in a story two years ago that the NAACP has been reporting the 500,000 figure since 1946.

Gordon says he has confirmed an active membership of less than 300,000 after ordering a methodical search of membership data.

“Those are accurate data according to membership files,” Gordon says. He declined to state his ultimate membership goal.

“I’m not trying to set public expectations,” he says.

But, less than a year ago, Gordon told blackAmericaweb exactly where he wants to go.

“The NAACP has a 500,000-vounteer membership. I’d like to see five million members,” he told Michael H. Cottman last July.

In recent years, under Chavis and Mfume, the NAACP has announced membership drives, none of which has gotten the organization close to 500,000 members.

A year ago, the NAACP announced a billboard campaign in 46 states. There was no tangible evidence that the drive significantly increased the membership. And some critics doubt whether this new drive will reach its 20,000 goal over such a short time period that ends with the opening of the national convention.

“We’ve taken a lot of time to analyze our membership base, to look at the democratic mix of that membership base and to put the proper kind of programs in place to really now begin to accelerate membership drives,” Gordon said.

“So, until we got all of that in place, we were not ready to crank up a new campaign.”

Gordon says he is not after numbers just for the sake of numbers.

“We need enough people on the ground who are connecting broad-based areas of advocacy into a local context,” he says.

“So, we think nationally, but we need to act locally. And I expect our people to be in their communities, to be in their respective communities and to be engaged.”

“Despite impressive civil rights gains in the last three decades, one needs to look no further than Georgia’s voter identification law and the way Black New Orleanians were treated after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf to realize that we still have not reached the point where there is equality for all,” he says in a statement.

The campaign began June 1 and is being extended through the convention, according to the campaign director, Brooke McCauley.

McCauley says that all 1,600 adult NAACP branches and 400 youth and college units are being challenged to aggressively and creatively recruit new membership.

“The overwhelming majority of our memberships are driven by our local sales force – the members in the field who believe in our mission for racial equality and social justice,” says McCauley.

“Some people will be soliciting memberships via the new technology of the web. They will be using email chains and text messaging to drive college students and the technologically savvy to the website to join.”

Others, she said, are continuing traditional campaigns through partnerships with local churches, fraternities and sororities, unions and other community organizations.

Giveaways, barbecues and receptions are still other ways that branches are enticing people to join.

“We’re also encouraging people to include voter registration and education,” McCauley says.

The membership drive, coupled with the encouragement to vote and be educated on issues go hand in hand with this year’s convention theme, Valuing Our Votes, Voting Our Values, says Gordon.

“We’re about to go into historically one of the most important election cycles in the history of our community – 2006 and 2008.”

“You’re going to see this non-stop for as long as you see me in this job,” he says. “And 20,000 is just a step.”


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