“Raise Fees 50%” and other nonprofit scary stories for Halloween


halloween-959006_640Hi everyone, Halloween is coming up this week. It’s one of my favorite holidays, along with Wombat Day, which is October 22nd (mark that on your calendar), so thank you to readers who sent in an entry to NWB’s Second Annual Scary Nonprofit Story contest. I asked/threatened two colleagues (Rachel Schachter of Temple Beth Am and Liahann Bannerman of United Way of King County) to review them with me, and we all had a great time. We judged the stories based on three elements: Humor, Creativity, and Scariness. It was difficult selecting the three winners, since the judges all had different definitions of what is scary in the nonprofit sector. If you didn’t “win,” please don’t be discouraged; the rankings are arbitrary, and we may have chugged a lot of pumpkin-spice-flavored ale while reading entries (and by “we,” I may just mean “I.”)

Here are the stories. Do not read them by yourself in the darkness.

Third Place Winner:

“Succession Specter”

Camille Holthaus

Note from Reviewers: We found this to be a chilling story with a truly tragic ending.

The talented and intelligent Executive Director Clarisse had grown in her poise, knowledge, and development prowess through her many years at Happy Stories sleeping-89197_640nonprofit. She charmed donors and inspired loyalty and joy in all her staff. In fact, Clarisse was so well loved, no one could imagine Happy Stories without her.

One day, a terrible feeling of dread filled the ED as she sat at her well-polished, second hand desk. She couldn’t imagine what could be the matter. Her donors were happy, her grants were secure, and her programs were successful. What could the trouble be? As Clarisse thought, an inky cloud rose out of her slightly battered filing cabinet. The cloud spilled out of the filing cabinet and began sliding across the floor toward her.

“Wha-a-at are you?” Clarisse stuttered, backing her chair up against the wall behind her desk.

The cloud kept advancing, leaving an oily residue on everything it touched. It slowed as it reached Clarisse’s eco-hip flats. It covered her feet and lapped up against her second-hand, but still stylish, hemp cloth trousers. She screamed and the cloud raced over her, filling her mouth and nose in an instant. Clarisse slid out of her chair onto the floor as the cloud began to flow out from under her door.

The Program Manager, Roger, saw the wisps of inky blackness start to emerge from under the door. Thinking it was smoke from a fire, he cried out a warning to the dedicated staff. Taking a deep breath, Roger opened the door to Clarisse’s office, planning to run in and pull her from danger. The inky cloud of darkness surrounded him in a terrible parody of a hug from a grateful grantee partner and he collapsed to the floor.

The rest of the staff had seen the inky blackness embrace the luckless man and they began to flee the office. In their horror, they had no thought for the program metrics or meeting schedules they left scattered in their wake.

“What ever will we do if something has happened to our beloved Executive Director?” the staff wailed as the clung to each other in the parking lot.

Clarisse found herself walking on a dark plain. All joyous memories of successful galas and empowered interns were covered with the same oily haze that now coated her office.

After an eternity, a figure rose up out of the ground. The Specter was a terrible vision, eight feet tall, pale, and wrapped in layers of ever shifting, gauzy film. The figure extended one slender, bony finger and pointed at her.

“You have failed to develop new leaders in your organization,” the figure boomed. “Happy Stories is doomed to the eternal twilight of once-great nonprofits. For your failure, you shall be punished.”

As the figure spoke it, so was it done. For the rest of time, Clarisse was forced to watch as Happy Stories struggled with the tragedy she had caused by not planning for her successor.

About Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP): BOP has a mission to build, serve, and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community to promote social justice. BOP provides educational presentations and workshops to raise awareness of the needs of the bi+ community and regular programming to build bi+ community in the Twin Cities area. The annual BECAUSE conference is a BOP program which brings together over 300 bi+ individuals from across the country. BOP partners with other organizations around the country to further national bi+ empowerment. BOP programs are all staffed with volunteers.


Second Place Winner

“A Tale from Utopia”

Marian McDermed

Note from reviewers: We couldn’t resist the charms of this sad story featuring a sweet unicorn. 

unicorn-186735_640The pure-hearted unicorn operated a homeless shelter for families. Moms and dads and kids together. So many families in need of safe refuge. The shelter needed to expand because the need was so great. The State of Utopia would help maintain the shelter once it was built, but they had no extra money to build it. Cost was heaven high at 100,000 sea shells.

The pure-hearted unicorn went to the churches in the community of Paradise and they all took up a special collection.  Each of the 100 churches in Paradise raised 37 sea shells. Only 96,300 sea shells to go. The pure-hearted unicorn was disappointed. She thought the churches of Paradise cared more.

The pure-hearted unicorn thought a fundraising event would be the answer to homeless families’ plight. She got together a committee and threw a huge gala. The sweet fairies served a meal fit for a prince to 200 attendees, with a heady nectar to sip. The committee was pleased. They made 3 sea shells per person after expenses. They also profited an amazing 1,000 sea shells from the auction! The unicorn counted…. 94,700 shells to go. Sigh. So much.

The pure-hearted unicorn wrote 25 grant requests and would have written more, but few foundations support the cost of building. But, oh happy day – 2 came through and unicorn was able to subtract 30,000 sea shells from what was needed! Only 64,700 sea shells to go!!

The pure-hearted unicorn made a list of all the wealthy residents in Paradise and approached them one by one. When “the ask” was made, passion and fire for the mission glowed in unicorn’s eyes. Unicorn convinced more than few and sea shell need was down to 32,000.

The pure-hearted unicorn knew what had to be done. The biggest fear of all; the dragon banker must be faced. Unicorn came armed with pages of numbers and stories that tore at the heart. Dragon banker burped smoke at family pictures and rolled red glazed eyes at the neat row of numbers that had taken weeks to comprise. “No, unicorn. Not today,” he whispered as his dragon tongue slithered between rows of teeth, “and definitely not for sea shell clam interest!”

The pure-hearted unicorn’s pure heart sunk, eyes leaking worthless diamond tears. “What can we do? There is no place for families to go.” Dragon banker belched a bit of fire and said, “Not my circus. Not my monkey.” The red glazed dragon eyes skewered unicorn’s glistening eyes and with foul breath said, “But I do have a proposition for you….. You have something I covet.”

The pure-hearted unicorn hung a heavy head and nodded slowly. Unscrewing the magnificent, glittering unicorn horn, the formerly pure-hearted unicorn traded what it meant to be a pure-hearted unicorn in exchange for 32,000 sea shells for the shelter.

The pure-hearted unicorn shriveled and disappeared in a poof of smoke.

About Family Promise of the Lakeshore: FP-Lakeshore, located in Muskegon, Michigan, is a program and shelter for families experiencing homelessness. We do not separate moms from dads from kids, and serve traditional and non-traditional families. Families spend their days at our Day Center (6 a.m. till 5:00 p.m.) Area churches provide an evening meal and overnight accommodations. At the Day Center families are provided case management services which gives guidance and advocacy as families strive to reach their goals. Life Skills classes include Financial Management, Nutrition, Tenant Rights and Responsibilities, parenting classes, and our newest – Civic Engagement. Success rate is 88%.


First Place Winner of the NWB 2015 Scary Nonprofit Story Contest

“Raise Fees 50%”

(Author would like to remain anonymous)

Note from reviewers: This story is truly scary and has haunted all of us since we reviewed it. 

Once upon a time in a terrifyingly tall ivory tower in the middle of a deep dark forest, a board of directors was meeting. The chairman had just called the meeting to zombie-278755_640order when the door to their meeting room flew open, and in shambled Director Joe. The other directors were shocked – since Director Joe hadn’t been to a meeting in over a year, they had all just assumed he was dead. Director Joe silently took a seat, his icy pallor chilling the room. The chairman recognized him, and the meeting continued. The board resumed their discussion of financials.

Thunder crashed, and the door burst open a second time. The hunched figure of Director Eugene appeared in the doorway. Again, the board was shocked. No one had seen director Eugene since the meeting four quarters ago. He shuffled to a vacant seat, holding tightly to his abdomen, as if to keep his organs from spilling out. The chairman again recognized the newcomer and the board got back to business.

As always, the question of how to generate more income arose. In the middle of a heated discussion of cultivating individual donors versus seeking federal grant funding, a low moan rose over the group.


The terrible sound was emanating from Director Joe, getting louder and louder as his dead eyes stared straight ahead. The other directors looked around uncertainly. What would placate this terrible beast? Still the moaning continued, louder and louder, until finally it escalated to, “MOOOVE TO RAISE SERVICE FEES.. RAISE FEES 50%.”

The Executive Director, panicking a little, tried to interject, “But certainly you realize that the people we serve could not afford such a rate increase?” Her pleas fell on deaf ears, and an even more violent “MOOVE TO RAAAISE FEES 50%!!” She noticed a heavy fog that smelled vaguely of despair gathering in the room, and Director Eugene was beginning to twitch. One by one, she could see the eyes of each director glaze over as they muttered to themselves and each other “a rate increase would indeed generate more revenue…”

A bellow rose forth from the pallid countenance of Director Eugene. “SECOND!!” As if in a trance, the chairman, in a monotone voice, called for a vote. “Aye!” rang out all around the conference table.

The fog become blacker still, and when the ED came to, she was alone in the conference room. She was disoriented and her head pounded. “Was this all a terrible migraine dream?” she asked herself, daring to hope. As she made her way out of the conference room, a ghostly trail of papers stuck in a gleaming trail of ichor littered the path. She picked one up. To her horror, she saw that it was the minutes from the meeting she thought she had dreamed. In a clearing in the woods, Director Joe and Director Eugene looked up from their feast of nonprofit clients’ brains as an agonized scream echoed through the cold clear night.


That’s all for this year (read last year’s winners). Coming up in February: The first ever NWB Nonprofit Poetry Contest. I’m going to find a sponsor to donate cash prizes for the winning poets, so start polishing up your iambic pentameter. 

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  • Amy Stapleton

    I made the mistake of reading these when I was alone in my office!

    I’m now hiding under our used desks!