Scary Nonprofit Stories to Tell in the Dark, 2021


[Two jack-o-lantern carved from orange pumpkins, their goofy/scary expressions lit up in the darkness, reflected in the shiny floor. Image by David Menidrey on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Halloween is coming up next week, which means it’s time for this year’s crop of spooky stories set in our sector. Beware, these stories are terrifying and may keep you up at night. Share your own stories in the comment. Also, check out #NonprofitHalloweenCostumes on Twitter for inspirations like this one: Wear all-yellow clothing. Put on a brown hat. Say things like “In two years, we’ll triple the number of people we serve.” You’re a…Strategic Flan! (Shut up! That pun is one of my life’s greatest achievements!)

Anyway, on with the stories.


The fortuneteller sat across from Roberto, her slender fingers waving over the crystal ball. “Yes,” she said, her face distorted in the glass so that her eyes appeared unusually large from his perspective, “I can see now. Clear as day. What would you like to know?”

As he was about to speak, she interrupted him. “Think carefully,” she said, narrowing her eyes, “for it is better some questions remain…unasked.”

Roberto pulled out his laptop and turned it on. “OK,” he said, “this online grant application won’t let me know the questions in advance. I have to answer each question and save it before I can see the next question. Can you tell me what all the questions are?”

At that moment, lightning flashed and a peal of thunder shattered the evening sky.


Charlotte had a busy day, so when she met for lunch with a donor and paid with her company card, she rapidly stuffed the receipt into her jacket pocket. She would deal with it later, before Lorraine, their finance person, got irritated. Weeks passed. She had forgotten about the receipt. Right on schedule, Lorraine sent her a courteous email with a list of expenses Charlotte had forgotten to account for that month. She felt bad, but she really needed to call and thank the donors on her list.

On a cold and rainy October day, the news came. Lorraine had been hit while crossing the road. The office became quieter. There was an air of foreboding, for even though she was not there, Lorraine’s presence seemed to linger. One evening, as she stayed up late working, Charlotte could hear Lorraine’s voice whispering faintly. “Turn in your receipts…turn in your receipts…”

“Seriously, Charlotte, I need those receipts.” She turned her chair around. There was Lorraine, standing at her door, her face pale, her eyes sunken. The smell of kettle corn and printer toner hung in the air. Charlotte let out a scream that echoed around the empty office and died in the darkened hallway.

“Or, you need to fill out a missing-receipt form.”

It turns out Lorraine had collided with a kid on a bike and had to take a day off to get X-Rays, but the doctor said there was nothing serious. Charlotte laughed nervously. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re OK! Yes, I will submit my receipts tomorrow, as soon as I finish these thank-you notes.”


They got used to seeing one another’s faces in little windows on computer screens. Group texts became the norm as the idea of coworkers gathering around a water cooler to discuss current news and TV shows faded into a distant memory. After a few years, as people received vaccinations, the pandemic tapered off. Offices started to open up, gradually, deliberately.

From her bedroom where they had done their work, Linh received an email informing the team that the office would start moving into a hybrid schedule. Linh was surprised to be looking forward to it. Colleagues would pop by to chat, like in the old days. There would be laughter and occasional arguments. Some things would change, for sure. Fist bumps would replace handshakes. There would be office birthday parties once more, though no one would likely ever blow a candle off a cake again.

And then, slowly, it dawned on them, and a sickening chill ran down their spine. No more pajama bottoms or sweatpants, they would have to wear hard pants again. Linh collapsed on the floor, biting their knuckles to contain a silent, anguished scream.


There was once a nonprofit that provided much-needed services to the community and was widely respected. But no one wanted to fully fund the work. So the nonprofit had to get grants and resources where it could. $10,000 grants, $5,000 grants, individual donations. When the nonprofit asked foundations for multi-year general operating funding so that it could plan and have consistency of staffing and services, it was rejected again and again in favor of burdensome short-term support.

Year after year, the nonprofit kept vital programs running by cobbling funding together, dozens of small grants, each with their own timelines, restrictions, and requirements. And thus it went on. Some say that if you walk by the office and stop to listen, you can hear the nonprofit groan under the weight of its existence, eternally surviving but never really alive.


After several months, Lucien landed a job. The job posting listed the salary range, and it was a decent number, though below what he knew was the median for a position in an organization of that budget size. When he interviewed, the team seemed friendly and easy-going. Sure, he would be one of the few people of color at the organization, and the only person of color on the development team, but he felt he could fit in, and maybe even eventually help to change things.

One Fall day, when icy winds rattled dead leaves, chilling bones to the marrow, he received an org-wide message from the ED announcing the employee giving campaign, with the goal of all employees giving some amount. Lucien asked to meet with his supervisor, Lily. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t think it’s equitable to ask employees to give to their own organization, especially when there’s such disparity in income between senior leadership and staff from marginalized backgrounds who are doing frontline work.”

Lily looked at him a moment. And then she smiled. “It’s OK, Lucien, you don’t need to contribute. Sure, it’ll be the first time we don’t have 100% employee giving. But you know, it’s completely optional, so you do you. No hard feelings.”  

As the days went on, however, he noticed things were different. Lily was more formal when communicating with him. Mark rarely acknowledged his comments in meetings. None of his development colleagues invited him to lunch. After a while, the stress affected Lucien. He left and was never heard from again. But, the organization was back to having 100% employee giving, yay!


The fortuneteller stared at Marla in the small room, dark except for the light under the crystal ball. “The spirits tell me things. Things that have happened and events yet to come. What do you want to know?”

Marla locked eyes with the fortuneteller. She was skeptical, but it was still worth a shot. “Can the spirits get me MacKenzie Scott’s contact information? My board has been hounding me to reach out to her.”


Jorge had been at the organization for 15 years. Courteous, dependable, and possessing a self-deprecating sense of humor, he was widely admired. But lately, he always looked tired when he came in to work. At first, his colleagues didn’t think anything of it. He was a hard worker, and because of the pandemic and several team members’ being laid off, everyone had extra tasks to tend to.

As the weeks passed, Jorge’s moods shifted. He would stare vacantly into space. He was always on his computer, or else checking his phone. Once a while he would come in smiling, appearing happy, but it was rare, and his visage became more and more gaunt and pale. The team became worried. The building was old and there were rumors whispered of it being haunted. His colleagues were afraid that Jorge was being possessed. They did not know what to do.

One day, they came in early and noticed Jorge slumped at his desk. He was wearing the same outfit he had worn the previous day. Someone touched his shoulder and he bolted right up. “Ethereum!” he screamed, “Solana!” Everyone was confused. “Jorge, are you OK?” someone asked. He stared at the group gathering around him.

“I’m OK,” he said, “I’ve been investing in cryptocurrency. So far, I’ve lost $3,800. But I have 40 million Shiba Inu coins, and if they go up, I’ll finally have some retirement savings after spending my life working in nonprofit!”

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