Membership had dipped from a high of 625,000 at the NAACP's apogee in the 1964, to less than 300,000 by the mid-2000s.
Five out of seven regional headquarters had closed and an old-guard leadership appeared aloof from young people, who were mainly concerned with the dearth of economic opportunity. The organization itself was ailing, operating for five years in the red, after revenues dipped $9 million.
"There was a great sense in the 1990s that the NAACP had become a museum piece," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles-based civil rights activist and columnist. "It was missing in action."
But the organization has seen a resurgence in recent years, spearheaded by a new president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, in 2008, at age 35 the group's youngest ever.
Jealous, who had headed a foundation and worked for human rights organization Amnesty International, embarked on a major revitalization campaign by reaching out to young African-Americans and people of varied minority groups, broadening the scope of the organization to end discrimination on all fronts.
"By focusing on the nexus of great civil rights issues and human rights issues that are keeping people of color trapped in poverty, folks have responded," Jealous said, noting that the recession has resulted in a lot of shared interests among different groups. "It's much easier to get folks together to build coalitions and break barriers."
The number of members, donors and a network of online partners who promote the NAACP have surged to 525,000, with the 18 to 25-year-old group the fastest growing segment as the organization has made a point to take up issues affecting younger people, such as college affordability.
The flood of new interest has pushed the organization into the black with a $31 million budget that has been pumped up by donations from foundations and major donors — $4 million in Jealous' first year — as well as a doubling in the number of small donors to 20,000. By fall, it will have reopened all of the five shuttered regional offices.
"He's been very energetic," Joseph said of Jealous.
Its grassroots base, meanwhile, has been boosted by an embrace of the country's multi-ethnic tapestry. An openly gay black man, Hispanic immigrants, whites, Asians, and Native Americans now serve as chapter presidents across the nation. "As the country becomes more diverse, so does the NAACP," said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president of advocacy and policy. "We are so excited about that aspect."