Nonprofit behind Gullah Celebration works to improve finances, management

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 20, 2012 

The organization behind Hilton Head Island's annual Gullah Celbration has grappled for three years with operating losses and debt, but better management has brightened the group's financial standing, leaders say.

"NIBCAA is moving beyond the challenges of 2009-11 to a more efficient and profitable 2012," Everett Miles, chairman of the board of the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, wrote in a recent email to The Island Packet

NIBCAA not only organizes the Gullah Celebration, it also advises its members on starting and running businesses and finding jobs, helps groups such as property owners associations, works to preserve heirs property and offered a youth program.

NIBCAA officials say the challenges they face have not affected the Gullah events planned this year or those in the future.

Questions about the nonprofit group's finances surfaced late last year during a hearing before a town committee that hears requests from organizations seeking money raised from accommodations taxes.

In addition to seeking a grant for this year, NIBCAA also asked the town to set aside $150,000 for next year. That concerned members of the committee, given the losses the NIBCAA has reported.

The committee recommended Hilton Head Town Council give NIBCAA $75,266 next year -- the same amount it's getting this year, not the $150,000 the organization requested for 2013.

Town Council tentatively approved next year's allocation, which will need final approval next year.

NIBCAA had gone from an operating surplus of more than $4,000 in 2007 to a loss of more than $63,000 in 2010, according to federal tax records. It also reported about $600,000 in "payroll liabilities" and long-term debt compared to $465,392 in assets on its 2010 federal tax return, its most recent on file.

Miles, responding to questions from the Packet, said the recession and bad weather have "played havoc" with attendance at recent Gullah Celebration events, NIBCAA's principal source of income.

Board members have acknowledged past management problems, but say that things are looking up as new leaders come aboard and made headway on improving the association's finances.

They point to NIBCAA's 2011 balance sheet -- revenues exceeded expenses by more than $29,000 -- as proof of NIBCAA's progress.

"Things weren't being done and certain people didn't exercise their fiduciary responsibility," board member Eugene Bedell told the accommodations tax committee during the Nov. 29 meeting. "We've got new leadership and are making sure (the lack of oversight) never happens again."

The association is attempting to collect on the $385,640 in outstanding loans and has mailed past-due notices to delinquent borrowers, Miles, the board chairman, said in his email. NIBCAA previously provided loans to low-income residents who were trying to start small businesses or pay their property taxes. The loan program ended three or four years ago because borrowers were struggling to repay, Miles wrote.

"The next course of action will be to turn over the uncooperative borrowers to a collection agency," his email said.

Charles Young III was named the association's interim director last spring, replacing co-founder James Mitchell, who had been president and CEO of NIBCAA since its inception. Mitchell left in November 2010 to become Bluffton's community-development director.

Association leaders are seeking funding from a variety of sources, and they hope to develop partnerships with other nonprofit groups, according to Miles.

New board members have also completed the first of a two-phased training requirement and are revamping the association's management, including staff training, to ensure finances are responsibly managed and reflect sound accounting principles, he wrote.

"(It's) a new day ... a new way," Miles wrote. "We weren't there before and can't undo the past, but we are moving forward as a business should be run."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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