NAACP CEO Bruce Gordon’s Surprise Resignation
Dissident NAACP board members are so upset with the resignation of CEO Bruce Gordon that more than two dozen are caucusing in an effort to oust longtime board chairman Julian Bond, several sources have told me.
But the organization has an even bigger problem: corporate supporters backing away from financial commitments. I learned there are several prominent Fortune 100 companies that were very close to giving multi-million-dollar gifts that have now backed away as a result of Gordon’s announced departure after 19 months at the helm of the 98-year-old civil rights organization. Other corporate partners have also pulled multi-million-dollar commitments “off the table,” according to a board member, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations.
All of the activity comes in the wake of the announcement by Gordon, a 61-year-old retired Verizon executive, that he was stepping down from the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
While the news of Gordon’s resignation was not a surprise to Bond, it was shocking to several other board members, who learned of the decision by way of media reports. To add insult to injury, sources say NAACP workers were alerted to the change by Google alerts to their Blackberries and emails.
While some board members said good riddance to Gordon, others weren’t as dismissive. “We have got to stop this,” said one irate board member. “This is an outrage. We are not going to be treated like this.” Board sources said a flurry of phone calls and emails between board members from across the country reached such a boiling point that they had compiled a list of at least five individuals to take over should Bond be voted out.
A board source said that according to the organization’s bylaws, 15 board members could call a special meeting and give Bond a 10-day written notice of their intention to have him replaced. Such a move would be just as shocking as Gordon’s departure because Bond, an icon in the civil rights arena who has served as chairman of the board since 1998, was re-elected to a new three-year term last month.
Several sources have said that the micro-managing style of Bond and the executive committee greatly contributed to Gordon’s frustration and subsequent decision to leave.
While Gordon initially spoke broadly about the board having too much influence in the day-to-day affairs, he later told me it was a much smaller number of board members that wanted to dictate how the organization should be run. “There were a good number of (board members) that I considered to be enlightened and progressive,” he said [on March 5].
In fact, the week Gordon was tapped to lead the NAACP in 2005, a source close to former CEO Kweisi Mfume, who also clashed with Bond, said, “He (Gordon) won’t have any control. Julian won’t let him have the power.”
An email to Bond seeking comment was not initially answered. In his first correspondence to the NAACP board, Bond sent an email stating: “I believed I had sent the memo in the attachment to you earlier today, but some have said they did not receive it. ... In these moments of transition, we must all pull together for the larger good of the organization we serve. I know I can count on you.”
In his undated memo to the board, titled “CEO’s Resignation,” Bond detailed a troubled relationship with Gordon almost from the moment he accepted the position. “Mr. Gordon first tendered his resignation to me six weeks after he took the job of NAACP CEO, saying he thought he and the NAACP were not a good fit,” Bond wrote. “I convinced him to stay aboard. Then on Saturday, February 17th, he tendered his resignation at the conclusion of the regularly scheduled Executive Committee meeting. Members of the committee asked him to reconsider, to no avail. He asked for a meeting with a small group of EC members in Baltimore on Friday, February 23rd. Board members Vice Chair Roslyn Brock, Leon Russell, William Lucy, and I met with him, again asking for reconsideration. When it became clear his mind was made up, we began a discussion of when we could announce that he was leaving and that a change in NAACP leadership would occur. He told me he would get back to me last week, but did not.
“In a voice-mail exchange with me while we were in Los Angeles for the Image Awards, he said that he would rather leave ‘sooner than later,’” Bond’s email noted.
In a story in the New York Times, Bond said that Gordon and the NAACP’s 64-member board of directors disagreed about the direction of the 98-year-old organization. Bond said their goal was to maintain a social justice focus, while Gordon wanted to delve into the social services arena. During an interview on my radio show on WVON-AM in Chicago, Gordon said the NAACP could do both.
Now the greater question is if the NAACP will be able to maintain the momentum ushered in by Gordon by attracting a new CEO willing to step into a job filled with tremendous uncertainty, especially if a board revolt results in a new chairman assuming control. Even Bond conceded that the NAACP could be severely impacted financially by Gordon’s resignation.
“I do not need to tell you that this announcement comes at a difficult time for the NAACP,” Bond wrote to board members. “Our pending move to Washington and our ambitious Centennial fund-raising campaign were heavily dependent on Mr. Gordon’s skills and contacts. His absence will mean each of us must redouble our fund-raising efforts.”
Roland Martin is an innovative journalist who hosts his own radio program, created the Web site www.blackamericatoday.com, and has written several books. Martin’s columns appear in newspapers nationwide. This article originally appeared in Martin’s newsletter on March 6.