7 nonprofit scary stories to tell in the dark

[Image description: A hand, glowing blue, with a creepy blurry blue background. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]
Hi everyone. I usually don’t post more than once a week, but I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. So here are some terrifying stories set in the sector. Read them, but beware, they are really, really scary, so make sure you are prepared. Happy Halloween.

The Salary History

Every day, Francine applied for jobs, spending time to carefully tailor and craft her resume and cover letter. There were never any responses. It seemed hopeless, until she saw a posting for a job that seemed perfect for her. But as she scanned to the bottom, a sinking feeling swelled up in her stomach. From outside her cold attic room, a crow cackled ominously. There was no salary range listed. A shiver ran through her spine as her eyes rested on a solitary line “Please submit resume and cover, including your salary history for the previous three positions.” Three positions. Three. Why, she thought, what does why previous salary at a previous position have anything to do with this completely different job? What sort of unethical BS is this? Desperate to pay rent and to eat, she applied anyway. Francine got the job, and because she had been underpaid before, she was now doomed to be underpaid at this job too. And the next job. And the next. And at all jobs in her future.


It was two weeks before the annual Gala. The leaves fell, victims of the cold, relentless October wind. Teresa the Development Director was having a meeting with her Communications Manager, Mary. “Were you able to submit the gala program to the printer?” Teresa asked. “Did it this morning,” said Mary, beaming, “I put the final file in the shared folder.” Throughout the day, there was a strange feeling in Teresa that something was not right. It bothered her, but she could not figure out what it was. During lunch, Teresa felt compelled to open the file on the gala program. Her heart stopped. The Oxford Commas were all missing. Every one. Mary had removed them. “Noooooooo!!!!” Teresa screamed, a piercing, agonized, and tortured cry of despair. “ ’We are especially proud of our three new programs: Youth Soccer, Afterschool Math and Science Club and Kids and Photography’?!” She tried to call the printer, but it was too late. 600 program booklets were already printed, shipped and ready to go.

Wait Till Innovation Comes

At the foundation headquarters the three trustees gathered to review proposals. The room was dark and dank, as if a window has not been opened for a long time. A stack of proposals sat on the table. Henry, the program officer, picked at his face nervously. The clock struck 8pm. “This organization has been doing amazing work for two decades,” says Henry.

“No,” said the trustees, “they’ve been around too long to be innovative. We must wait for innovation.” They continued to review the proposals, and the minutes passed without an approval. The clock chimed ten times. “This organization is led by and serving communities of color,” said Henry, “they are the only one focused on this issue in their area.”

“Yes,” said the trustees, “but are they innovative enough? We must wait for innovation.”

The clock chimed 12 times, its sounds reverberating throughout the dark, marbled halls. One of the trustees’ eyes lit up. “Look,” she said, holding up a perfectly formatted proposal, “this organization is amazing! It’s innovative! It’s scalable!” “Yes,” said another trustee, “it’s disruptive! It’s sustainable! It’s what we’ve been waiting for!”

Henry tried to contain his excitement; this was an organization he had been rooting for. Funding it would not only enable it to do its work, but also greatly affect the entire sector through lessons learned. The last trustee, who had been scanning the proposal, lowered his reading glasses. Several seconds passed, marked by the ticking of the clock. “It is innovative,” he said, “but I don’t see a track record.” From somewhere in the distance, in the night, Henry could almost hear it—a faint, mournful wailing of an executive director.

The Bizsplainer

The staff was excited. A new member joined the board. Joseph had lots of board experience, having been on the board of 19 organizations. He had wealth, having retired early and rich as a hedge fund manager. No one knew what a hedge fund was, but they knew it meant he could be helpful in bringing in wealthy donors.

Unlike many of the other board members, Joseph was engaged. He showed up for every board meeting. The staff appreciated the enthusiasm he brought. Gradually, though, they started to notice something was not right. One meeting, while the ED was presenting the strategic plan, he said, “Do you have a business plan? Do you know what a business plan is?” Another time, when the Finance Director was presenting the budget-to-actuals, he interrupted with “Y’all should use some sort of accounting software. Businesses use them to keep track of expenses and stuff.”

One day, he questioned the senior hot meal program. “What’s the ROI on this program? That’s Return on Investment, for you folks. It’s what we get in return on our investment. A high ROI is good, and low ROI is bad, understood?” The room was quiet. Joseph leaned in and whispered, “Have y’all considered maybe opening a thrift shop?”

The Hire

Every year, she asked for a raise. Just $5,000 more. She had been a rock star, and she was underpaid. Every year, the ED said no, citing lack of funding. Finally, frustrated and heartbroken, she quit. The ED begged her to stay. She said she would, if she got the raise she had asked for over the past three years. He said that was not possible, and he would give her a good reference.

A week passed by, then a month. One Autumn night, a blood moon hung low on the horizon, and a chill swept through the town. Dead, brittle leaves scattered down the streets like ghost children playing a sad game of tag. She checked her email and a notice popped up. Her old position was open. She looked at the job posting and there it was, the salary range. And the minimum was $5,000 MORE THAN WHAT SHE HAD ASKED FOR!!!!

Missing, Part II

Rain fell hard, with flashes of lightning. In her office, Teresa was consumed. How would she talk to her Communications Manager? Mary probably meant well in removing all those Oxford Commas and inadvertently making the gala program booklet awful, horrible, and terrible. She needed to deliver the feedback in such a way that it would be taken well. Mary had been working there for six months. She was wonderful, always friendly and helpful. Teresa sometimes envied her vitality. She did not want to crush her spirit, but this was a serious, egregious, and embarrassing mistake.

All morning she ruminated, pacing her small office. At lunch time, her colleague Edward popped in. “Hey,” he said, “is something on your mind? Are you OK? You haven’t seem like yourself lately.”

“No,” she said, “I just need to figure out how to talk to Mary about the program booklet. She did some serious editing without checking in with me.”

Edward looked confused. “Who’s Mary?” Teresa looked at him. “Mary?…Our Communications Manager?” He looked even more confused. “Um…we’ve never had anyone named Mary working here. You’ve been doing all the communications, and the development, and the volunteer management. You also do all the HR. And the janitorial duties.”

Outside, the rain fell hard, and the wind whistled through the trees.

The New Office

They had lucked out, securing the lease just in time. It was in a perfect location, accessible for wheelchair-enabled clients and staff, close to a main bus stop. The rent was a bargain, and the landlord seemed affable and approachable. They moved in, and immediately felt that something wasn’t right. Picture frames and small objects were sometimes knocked over. At night, when staff stayed late, they could hear a soft clawing noise coming from the wall.

Desperate, they brought in a paranormal consultant. He arrived, a wiry man with haunted eyes that had seen too much. He walked the hallways. He touched the walls. He stood in the kitchen and closed his eyes. “I feel the presence of a spirit,” he said finally, “yes, someone who founded a nonprofit. She’s extremely attached to the organization that used to rent this space. She believes they are still here. I feel her sadness. The organization moved on, but she has not. The founder’s ghost lingers here.”

At his recommendation, they tried to appease her spirit. They left an empty chair out for her during team meetings. Sometimes they made the gesture of asking for her advice, whispering into space, seeking her thoughts on strategic directions and HR decisions. For a time, things calmed down. But then the scratching sounds started again.

The executive director, driven to near madness, left, and a new one came in. She listened to the staff’s stories. One night, despite the team’s concerns, she decided to camp out overnight. The next morning, they found her lying motionless on the couch. She opened her eyes. “We have a mice problem,” she said. The team looked at each other, relieved. “Oh, a mice problem,” they said, laughing, “of course!” Then they went back to work.

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