Happy Halloween everyone! Below are the 10 winners of the Nonprofit AF Scary Story Contest 2022. Thank you to the dozens of colleagues who sent in entries. I read them all under a blanket with a flashlight, shivering with mounting fear and dread as if I was creating a budget using a funder’s budget format set in Word. It was a very difficult task to choose the 10 winners. We have some talented writers (and at least one amazing actor, as you’ll see in a video below) in our sector. These stories won based on creativity, scariness, and originality. Understandably, many colleagues asked to remain anonymous. I did very little editing, except to add Oxford Commas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
The last beams of daylight slid serpent-like across the valley floor as they gathered, silent, tentative. A quail cried in the distance. They were so far from their known, gridded city.
Aidan’s voice cracked the silence like a whip. “Do we have the Things?”
The others murmured as they formed a line. They knew the ritual. They knew the ritual all too well.
“Board’s Statement on DEI?”
“Who… who has the deer carcass?”
Janet from accounting stumbled forward, rattled. “I do! I’m sorry. I do. In my trunk.”
Aidan cleared her throat. “Excellent. I think we’re ready.”
And with that, they approached the compound. They knew the ritual. They knew the ritual all too well. Gates. Doors. Knock exactly twice. Butler. Third floor. Sitting. Smiling. Sipping.
And the deer carcass. Always ending with the deer carcass.
Only then might the annual Wooing of the Highest Individual Donor be complete.
Author’s shoutout: The Sogorea Te‘ Land Trust is an Indigenous women-led land trust in the Bay Area working to rematriate ancestral lands.
Years ago, on a moonless night, the nonprofit leadership gathered and vowed to increase the racial diversity in their staff. Several BIPOC staff members were recruited, interviewed, and hired. The leadership was pleased with itself.
But then, a BIPOC staff member pointed out a problem: the organization was mainly serving wealthy, white folks. The board shivered with unhappiness. “We shall solve this,” they declared. “We only need six to eight months to plan a survey to see if this problem is real.”
Meanwhile, the BIPOC staff member quit.
Months continued to pass, and the survey was completed and distributed. As the results came in, it was clear that the organization mostly served wealthy, white folks.
Now, another BIPOC staff member had ideas for increasing the organization’s reach. “We like these ideas,” said the board. “We only need six to eight months to hire a consultant to see if these solutions are viable.”
Meanwhile, the BIPOC staff member quit.
Next, another staff member had a vision for dismantling white supremacy in the organization. She wanted to be a leader in this project, but to do the difficult work, she wanted more pay.
The ED considered it, but decided it wouldn’t be equitable to pay this one staff member more than some other staff members who’d been on the staff longer than she had.
So she quit.
And now, on nights like tonight, you can almost hear the whispers of the organization’s leadership, wondering how they can increase racial diversity on their staff.
The Repeat Caller
By Kelsey Shaffer
Marty stepped into the office, five minutes to 9 on a cloudy October morning. Her mind was preoccupied with the low balance on her bus fare card; she did not own a car, and her company did not provide public transportation benefits. She wondered how she would afford to get to work for the rest of the month. This would be the least of her worries today.
At 8:59am, she felt a sudden chill pass through her body. It was almost time. She clicked on her computer monitor and wondered if today would be the day. Her boss wasn’t in yet; she was alone in the drafty warehouse that had been repurposed as an office for the Development team.
At 9:00am, she breathed a sigh of relief. At 9:01 she walked to the kitchen (a closet with an oven full of mouse droppings) to make a cup of coffee. At 9:04, she settled into her squeaky chair and pulled up Outlook.
At 9:11, her phone rang. She jumped from her chair. Slowly, she turned to look at the caller ID. The blood drained from her face. Her veins ran cold with ice.
Her hands shook as she picked up the receiver. “H…hello, Marty speaking?”
Silence on the other end. Then, the sound of shallow breathing.
“Can I help you?”
More shallow breathing. Then, finally, a gravelly voice spoke.
“I will give your organization $1,000 if you PROMISE ME you will all go vegan.” Click. The line was dead.
He had been trying for years now to secure funding, knowing they were one of the largest corporations in the region. They had pages of brightly colored infographics, paired with smiling faces, splashed with every “corporate responsibility” catch-phrase-du-jour, all saying just the right thing. They never even replied to invitations to the gala.
And then, in the last week of October, it came. The email. A shiver ran down his spine as he read it. It had finely happened. Elation. They were going to give for gen-ops. Not a lot, but it was a start. As he read on, that shiver turned into a chill.
“We’ve decided that we’d like to do a check presentation coordinated with a volunteer service day. We’d like for you to set up and organize a street cleaning project on a Saturday in November. We’re going to send our photographer and videographer.”
In the distance, a lonely wolf howled, and a program director cursed.
By Kate I.
Linda nervously paced her expansive corner office. Rumors and whispers had been circulating among the staff. Some were talking about ‘a culture of racism’ and ‘systemic bias’ in the organization – but Linda couldn’t believe it! As the CEO and original founder, she knew such stories were just that, stories. SHE had certainly never seen any racism in her organization, which did very Important Work for Deprived Peoples of a Community Linda Wasn’t A Part Of. But still, the murmurings continued.
In the darkened office, Linda could swear she heard them even now. A low groan out of the darkness: ‘Whhhhyyyyy is the leadership team and BOD overwhelmingly whiiitttteee?” A chittering under her feet: “Haaaavvvveeee yooouuuu never wondered why turnover in staff of color is soooo hiiiiggggghhhh?” A rising chant, louder and louder from the rows of cubicles outside: “What. You. Call. Best. Practice. Is. Systemic Bias!”
There was a terrible negativity in this organization!! Linda was overwhelmed with fear. She needed to root out the forces that were causing this unrest and discontent. Filled with determination, PIP worksheets, and pink slips in hand, Linda readied herself to exorcise the Root of the Negativity. And then she saw it, peering out of the night. The monstrous source of all the problems. It was…. her own reflection.
Would Linda make reparations to her staff and redistribute the organization’s resources to BIPOC led organizations? Or would she stay a Nice White Lady in Nonprofit Leadership ™ …. Forever?
Those Who Walked Away from Msilatipac
It was a dark and stormy night near Msilatipac: a category five hurricane swirled gulf waters and swallowed land as wildfire tornadoes exploded from trees in ancient forests, while a cold wind blew but no rain or snow fell, and rivers dried up.
A group of humans who looked like zombies lumbered looking not for brains, but to survive this gloomy world. In the distance, they saw a light rising inside cyclones of ash and dust. They shielded their eyes as the light brightened, until they came upon the cast-iron grate in the ground.
Several humans lifted the grate and peered down into a tunnel, where they saw a man, dressed in suit, counting the 1.4 trillion dollars he’d hidden away in his donor advised fund and overseas accounts. When the man saw the exhausted humans, he startled and clutched his money to his chest. “I can live down here in my bunker for a year!” he exclaimed, “And none of you are welcome!”
“We know, dude,” one human said as the rest of the group screeched the metal grate across the ground.
The humans walked away from the man who hoarded his money. The soles of the humans’ shoes stirred dust and ash into soil, their labored breath turned to vapor, which would become the rain, their boots stomped down seeds falling from the burning trees that would soon bloom. The group formed a community who provided aid and shelter for each other until the end of time.
Author’s shoutout: I support Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).
Work Harder, Not Smarter
By Philanthropic Sci-Fi Fan
“Work smarter, not harder” the chief operating officer parroted the popular slogan during the staff meeting. “We are streamlining our processes, starting with the grant application.” Little yellow applause symbols popped up all over the Zoom screen. The foundation had completed the Center for Effective Philanthropy survey and the news was startling. The message from grantees was – people good, processes bad. The average amount of time spent on a grant application was more than 60 hours!
A Streamlining Committee was created with representatives from the major programs, finance and administration and they set to work. Focus groups, surveys, retreats, team calls, consultants… A year passed… Another year passed… Year three the new forms were ready but were delayed another year because of a new grant management database. Finally, the new forms were ready and… the font color had changed and… four more questions were added.
During the staff meeting, the chief operating officer spoke with a forced cheery voice, “We are excited to share these new forms to help us work harder, not smarter.” Her eye began to twitch. “I meant work smarter, not harder. Then she jerked forward and started banging her head on the desk until her skull cracked open to reveal the wires and blinking lights. Her eyes glowed red and her robot arms flailed wildly. “Work harder, not smarter; harder not smarter.” Someone raced into the room and everyone watched on the Zoom screen as they found the off button and she slumped to the desk.
Can I At Least Get Candy?
By Deysi Guiterrez
‘Twas the night before Christmas…oh wrong holiday. Twas the night before Halloween and with every breath Sofia took, she could feel her nostrils fill with cold, dry air and enthusiasm. She was fast walking to her first ever non-profit related paid opportunity!
Sofi had been volunteering without pay for 3 years, and this was her big break. The job was to help with a coat drive, for $15 an hour. As she arrived at the location, she put down her bag and coat, and got ready to get to work. There were about 300 coats to sort through, and only 3 staff executing this mission, including her. After 6 hours of looking at coats, and seeing smiling faces receiving them. Sofi’s heart was filled with love but her tummy was empty. She was ready to get paid and go eat some food!
Sofi followed the other staff to the office where they were going to pick up their checks. As she entered the room, she saw the ED of the small organization sitting behind her desk. Eagerly Sofi smiled at them; she felt so much respect for this person. They had given Sofi this paid opportunity! The ED looked at Sofia, smiled warmly, and said, “So, do you want to volunteer your time today? We are running short in funding and it would really help us out”. After hearing that, Sofi’s heart sank to her stomach. She was not hungry anymore.
By Spooky Simon Mahan
It was a brisk fall morning. The newest nonprofit staff member was ready to take on the world. “I’m ready to take on the world! I’ve got my coffee, my laptop, and a full day with no calls planned!”
While totally focused on work related stuff, an article from NPR was just posted on Instagram about the economy. “This may have an impact on my org’s budget, I’d better open it in a new window to read it later.” One by one, the staffer kept opening new window after new window, filled with news, entertainment, and Costco shopping items.
Then, an email arrived. “Hello, this is [insert very important person character]. I have scheduled a Microsoft Office call, which you can only access using your web browser in 15 minutes. You must be on video. See you soon.”
A few minutes into the call, one of those open windows betrayed our protagonist, and began to play an ad. “Do you suffer from hemorrhoids?”
“Excuse me?” VIP said.
“Uh, one moment!” Frantically, our staffer rushed thru the windows of saved pages.
“TRY THIS CREAM UP YOUR…”
Miraculously, our heroic staffer found the ad, and muted it.
“Phew, that was a close one!” our hero exclaimed.
“You’re unmuted.” VIP said.
Vanquished, the call ended with a horrific scream from our staffer, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”
Author’s shoutout: Southern Renewable Energy Association is a nonprofit trade association focused on promoting wind, solar, energy storage, and transmission development in the southern United States.[End-credit scene]: “…still unmuted. And why are you crying? You’re on video, remember?”
I Know What You Donated Last Summer
By Cassandra A
Author’s shoutout: Xavier Mission is a ‘for-impact’ organization providing basic services and opportunities for achieving personal growth and self-sufficiency. Since 1983, Xavier Mission has welcomed, served, and empowered our guests with dignity and respect. Today, Xavier Mission operates five outreach programs that provide a continuum of services to those facing difficult times.