NAACP’s Ben Jealous: An Iconic Leader’s Biggest Successes

Five years after taking the helm of the organization as a relative unknown, Ben Jealous leaves the position as one of its most successful leaders ever. Here's how he did it.

Ben Jealous’ term as NAACP president and CEO has been an eventful one for the well-known activist association.

“The NAACP has always been the largest civil rights organization in the streets, and today it is also the largest civil rights organization online, on mobile and at the ballot box too,” Jealous said in a statement. “I am proud to leave the Association financially sound, sustainable, focused, and more powerful than ever.”

And with him announcing his resignation this week (he’ll stay on through December), now’s a good time to consider exactly what benefits he brought to the group he’s led since 2008. Among the things he did well:

Media attention: Under Jealous, the group has proven adept at championing causes around the nation and helping draw increased media and public scrutiny to them. Some of the best examples of this, USA Today notes, are the plight of Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis, the push for an arrest and trial in the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, and the battle over instating new voter identification laws around the country that the NAACP contends make it harder for blacks and other minorities to vote. Jealous did have some low points on the media front (he was quick to attack fired USDA employee Shirley Sherrod based on a selectively edited video), but the organization was generally very successful in pushing larger initiatives.

Fundraising: During Jealous’ term, the association’s fundraising reach expanded significantly, with the group’s higher profile related to issues helping to boost the organization’s numbers—with 132,543 current donors, up hugely from 16,422 in 2007. The NAACP’s revenues stood at $46 million in 2012, up from $25.7 million in 2008. While the organization wasn’t perfect by Charity Navigator’s standards (it rated a score of 56.86 out of 70 overall, due to its score on financial issues), it earned a perfect score on transparency.

Public profile: While Jealous was barely known outside of activism circles before being hired as president and CEO in 2008 at age 35, he’s been successful in building up a national profile by taking tough stances on issues. A friend of his, CNN CrossFire host Van Jones, says that this not only helped him but the organization at large. “The NAACP before Ben got there was financially in the red and politically marginal,” he told USA Today. “Ben should be on the cover of every business magazine in America as foremost turnaround artist on the American scene.”

But the downside of this is that Jealous often found himself away from family, drawn into public political debates that kept him away from the ones he loved. He and his wife, Lia, have a 1-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

“My chair asked me when I called her, she said, ‘Well, is there someone who’s luring you away?'” he told CNN about the decision. “And I said, ‘Yes, there is. His name is Jack, and her name is Morgan.'”

So now, five years after taking the helm, he’s moving on.

For leaders, this raises an important question: Is it possible to juggle family with the larger issues such a public position raises? And if so, how can one balance the two things most effectively?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

(photo by Fighting For Our Health/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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