Happy Halloween, everyone. I hope you are going to a party tonight. If you don’t have a costume, just remember: As a nonprofit professional, you are automatically a unicorn (see “Nonprofit professionals, you are each a unicorn“).
Thank you to all the NWB readers who submitted entries to NWB’s first-ever Scary Nonprofit Story contest. We received all sorts of tales, about creepy consultants, revenge by volunteers who emailed an org and never got a response, a never-ending festival from hell and the horrible director behind it all, a literal strategic planning nightmare, an org overly depending on volunteer staff, technology that go horribly awry/annoying, a Nonprofit Zone where things seem all right but are not, clueless board members who dismiss every single new idea, and a Frankensteined-together Collective Impact model forced to dance forever.
I just want to say how much the two other judges (a Development Director and a Deputy Director) and I enjoyed these stories. They are hilarious and terrifying. There are many talented writers in our field. It was a very difficult decision, since so many stories were so good. We each independently scored the entries on Creativity, Nonprofit Scariness, and Humor; and the scores were aggregated. If you entered and didn’t win, please don’t be discouraged. The scores are as arbitrary and subjective as…I dunno, most grant awards. Gather you team; I dare you to read these terrifying tales in the darkness of your conference room…
First, we have three honorable mentions:
The Beautiful Development Director and the Mysterious Stranger, by Sarah Frazier. A story about a beautiful Development Director who meets a mysterious man and falls for him. All seems good. Or is it…?
Winners of Nonprofit With Balls’s Scary Nonprofit Story Contest
THIRD PLACE, winner of unicorn stickers, and bestowed with the title “Nonprofit with Balls”:
“The Tale of the Super-Involved Board,” by Eiledon McClellan and team, Thrive by Five Washington.
It seems like a normal week at Scrappy Nonprofit. The board is scheduled to go on its annual daylong retreat; the nametags are printed, the packets are prepared. On the agenda is a special seminar on how to be an involved board member, and because word had gotten out how fantastic the session is going to be, every board member shows up for the retreat.
The next day, the staff hears that the retreat went well: The board is excited and energized about the year to come. In fact, the staff notices that at the next fundraising committee meeting, all the board members on the roster not only attend the meeting, but they all suggest friends they can invite to the next fundraising event. A couple of weeks later, the board’s program committee meets, and the program director notices the board members are all eerily familiar with what the programs are and how they work.
The board members start dropping in to the office in between scheduled meetings – and greet staff members by name. This is when the staff starts getting nervous.
One day, the CEO arrives at his office to find the board president is already there, tidying the files on his desk. “Sorry,” the board president says, “I got here early. I was just so excited to talk with you about the board development committee. Ten people have signed up for it! And they all have great ideas!”
Over the next several weeks, the CEO and his staff start peering around corners to avoid running into board members in the halls. When the fundraising committee gathers, the chairwoman announces that every board member will be purchasing a table at the upcoming luncheon … and each would like to sign off on the customized centerpieces for his or her table. The next day, the finance committee chair insists on reviewing every single timesheet from the previous fiscal year, just to triple-check that it aligns with the budget. One board member sits next to the office manager each day and directs her which office supplies to order.
“You should buy these pens. They have superior writing ability.”
A board member who read an article about office worker health comes in to instruct each staff member how to sit ergonomically. As the communications team works on a new suite of collateral, five board members request to review it, and all provide detailed yet conflicting line edits.
Finally, on the day after Thanksgiving, the CEO comes in to the office, seeking some peace and quiet so he can get some work done – without his well-meaning but obsessive board members chiming in. As he starts to catch up on his email, he hears mumbling and noises down the hall. It gets louder. He realizes the board members are closing in.
“I have an idea …”
“Have you thought about …”
“I just read about …”
“You should really wake up to … wake up … wake up!”
The CEO feels a hand grasp his shoulder and realizes it’s his partner, rousing him out of his nightmare. “Oh, I had this horrible dream about our board members … nevermind.”
He gets up and heads to the office, straight into a 9 a.m. board program committee meeting. As he enters the room, he’s greeted by one board member in person and two on the phone. None of them have read the materials in advance.
He takes a deep breath and says, “Thank goodness things are back to normal.”
Thrive by Five Washington deserves unicorn stickers because we work everyday with partners and communities across the state to give all children in Washington opportunities to thrive.
SECOND PLACE, winner of help from Easy Grants to find five potential grant prospects, and bestowed with the title “Nonprofit with Balls:”
“The Succubus,” by Jennifer Watts, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park
There once was a non-profit friends group. At first they were a board of three. They were getting on in years and hated all things fundraising, so their gentle but naïve ED pushed them to add more members to the board. So with revised bylaws in hand, they became a board of seven.
One day the Chairman of the Commission they supported introduced them to his friend, Jezebel. The seven were immediately smitten with her blonde hair, short dress, and beaver teeth. When the ED looked at her, however, she could see gaping dead eyes, rotting hair that clung to her pallid skin, and bones that eerily jutted out from beneath her clothing. Jezebel introduced herself as a fundraiser who loved the Commission’s historical parks so very much and wanted to help them with their funding woes. She spoke breathlessly of the amazing well-attended events, big donors with whom she was personal friends, and corporate sponsorships that would rain down upon the seven and their cherished parks. She assured them that her monthly fee would come directly from the money she raised, while the ED stared in terror. A contract shimmered into her hand, and she smiled beguilingly at the seven. The chairman fell over himself in his haste to sign up with this beautiful stranger. The ED tried to interject that maybe they should take a moment to read the contract before signing it in blood. But her warnings were in vain. The seven headed home, very pleased with themselves, their new friend, and all the good this magical fundraiser would do for the parks.
The ED, left alone, shivered and decided she would try to make the best of it. Maybe she had mistakenly perceived those cold dead eyes. She walked back to her office. Sitting on her desk, as though it had appeared from nowhere, was an invoice for $1,500 from Jezebel. She ripped the invoice to shreds and threw it in the trash. How had it gotten there? The blood wasn’t even dry on the contract yet! She decided she’d had enough and left for the day.
The next morning when the ED arrived at work, she opened the door to her office to find that each shred of Jezebel’s invoice had become a new invoice for $1,500 – payable immediately. Before she could process this, her phone rang and she answered to find the foundation chair screaming at her for not cooperating with Jezebel. Then her assistant ran in to inform her that Jezebel was downstairs to see her and get some “information” to help with fundraising. The ED told Jezebel that it was not a good time – and to make an appointment to come back later. Jezebel left and the phone rang again. Another of the seven screaming that she better cooperate with poor sweet Jezebel, or else.
The ED met with the seven, showed them the contract guaranteeing Jezebel $1,500 a week, a litany of expenses, and some pretty crazy confidentiality privileges. She asked where they thought the money for this would come from. “Jezebel will raise it!” they chimed. Then they admonished the poor ED for being combative.
The next morning, Jezebel appeared in the ED’s office again, with a stack of invoices and expense receipts. She promised that some checks would come soon. The ED wanted to believe her.
Months went by. Jezebel haunted the ED at every turn, while the seven gushed that Jezebel was doing such a great job. No checks ever came. Jezebel began harassing the ED for more payments. “I’ll tell the seven” she threatened! “I’ll cry, and I’ll tell them the most horrible things so they fire you!” And the ED believed her because she clearly had some kind of hypnotic power over them. But there was simply no money to pay Jezebel.
Three days later, the ED was found smothered beneath a pile of writhing, screaming invoices, surrounded by empty bottles of her only remaining comfort – vodka, rum and tequila.
The Alabama Historic Ironworks Foundation is proud to support the projects and programs of Tannehill and Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Parks. Specifically, the Foundation facilitates the continuing historic preservation and interpretation of the historical sites at both parks, funds programs to connect visitors of all ages with their industrial heritage, and encourages further research and publication of topics of importance to Alabama’s industrial and frontier history. Together these parks serve over 600,000 annual visitors with access to low-cost outdoor recreational and cultural opportunities and 5,500 students from local area school with educational programming.
FIRST PLACE, winner of a written grant proposal from Easy Grants (Kurt and Nick from Easy Grants will find and then work with you to write and submit a grant), and bestowed with the title “Nonprofit with Balls,” is none other than…
“Mission Drift,” By Andrea Rundell, YWCA of the University of Illinois
(That’s right, the YWCA of U of Illinois is now certified a Nonprofit with Balls)
Rosalie tried to concentrate on the proposal before her, but the blank signature line kept tugging at her eyes. There it sat. Pristine. Begging for an inky flourish to make the contract—and the new program, the new money—come to life.
“How are the cats? The shelter has been a model pilot. Highly replicable!” Across the desk, the enthusiastic Foundation officer, Jack, was beaming.
The board had been a little uneasy about the new direction when the Foundation first approached them. The meeting had been a messy one until Roger bellowed, “We’re a shelter, dammit! Of course we do it!” Motion: Roger. Second: Sally. Ayes: 8. Nays: 0. Abstained: 0. Not present: 6.
“They’re great! 240 spay/neuters this year, we exceeded our goal by 20%, so proud of our staff, building community partnerships, we’ll be able to really expand next year…” Rosalie realized she was babbling the report she had just submitted and cut herself off.
Jack nodded. “Exactly! Our investors are truly impressed with how you’ve taken the bull by the horns. Looks good in the old annual report, too, eh?” He flashed a conspiratorial grin, and Rosalie felt guilty relief wash over her. Being in the black at the end of the year had looked very good, for once.
“Partners like you are not easy to come by, Rose. We see so many people with ideas, but they no business sense. Big hearts, bless them! But working with amateurs is like herding cats; they don’t understand the bottom line. You, on the other hand, you know how to make the analytics pop. When the rubber meets the road at COB, we need better than just BAU. I don’t have to tell you this, you understand.” Jack nodded with satisfaction.
She nodded back, desperately hoping the buzz-mishmash would make sense soon. “So, you’re um, moving away from cats? This proposal…I didn’t realize dogs were,” her panicked brain groped, “… in your wheelhouse?”
“Dogs have social currency, Rose. I’ll tell you, confidentially, we’ve been in negotiations with…a player. She’s putting up the money for this,” he tapped the contract, “and I can’t say who, but she’s a hometown girl who made it big and now she wants to give back.”
Rosalie was racking her brains. Maybe that teen wonder from the suburbs…? Serious media exposure…
Jack was still in his own money-scented world. “And an animal lover—oh my! You probably saw her at Fashion Week, with her designer Teacup Pom-Tzu?”
Rosalie ventured a smile in return. Was Fashion Week that benefit the All-American Dog Lovers did?
“But shush! If you did recognize her, you didn’t hear it from me, right?” Jack gave another conspiratorial wink.
Rosalie put on her best donor-confidentiality face. “Of course not. I’d never–”
“Never a doubt, my dear! We are—oh so gently—nudging her towards a—shall we say—a sustained commitment. A hometown girl needs a hometown charity to promote, don’t you think?”
That sounded good. But, “She’s set on…?” Rosalie ventured.
“Dogs, yes. But you showed that you can adapt with the cats, right? We can hardly let such low-hanging fruit go to waste, so we turn to Rose.” Jack leaned forward. “Who else can we trust with this?”
Rosalie nodded. The administrative percentage was generous and would cover a lot of personnel costs—you didn’t get an offer like this every day.
Rosalie signed the contract with the inky flourish she’d envisioned. After all, she thought as she hurried back to the office, once they’d made that initial decision to expand the shelter to cats, it hadn’t been hard. They’d rearranged living quarters and made room for them on the first floor. Adding dogs couldn’t be that different. Maybe they could turn the second floor bedrooms over to the dogs? Like Roger said, they were a shelter, dammit! The homeless people could probably be moved to the basement.
Says Andrea: I work for the YWCA of the University of Illinois. We are astonishgly awesome because (1) we have this killer mission of “eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” It’s like a superhero oath and we get to kick any butts we want. (2) All two of us full-time staff people are less than 9 months in our positions, so we get to decide just HOW we are going to kick butt to take down racism, sexism and all associated injustices. Maybe with capes. Definitely with balls. An awesome mission and an open field? It doesn’t get much better than that!
That concludes our scary nonprofit story contest. I would like to give thanks to all our readers who submitted entries, to our judges Rachel and Rona, and to Kurt and Nick from Easy Grants. If you are one of the winners, I’ll be contacting you regarding prizes. (I’m working on a “Certified Nonprofit with Balls” certificate that you can proudly display).
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