What Nonprofits Can Learn From Halloween’s Top Costumes

Halloween costumes are a $28 million industry. Even if you haven’t bought yours yet, I bet you’re weighing your options. (After the Red Sox’s big win over the Detroit Tigers Sunday night, I’m thinking of going as a bearded cop with his arms raised in victory!) Here’s something else you should be thinking about. The most popular costumes offer valuable insights for nonprofit marketers and fundraisers on what trends are real or an apparition.


The leader of the costume pack is minion costumes from the popular Despicable Me movies. Besides being cute and funny, minions reflect the gigantic leaps animation has taken in the past generation. These movies just aren’t for kids anymore. They vie with some of the biggest films in Hollywood as top earners.

Lesson for nonprofits: Animation, superheroes and other fantasy themes are popular ways to tell cause-related stories. In Chipotle’s Scarecrow Youtube video, a thoughtful scarecrow takes on the food industry, which is portrayed as pestering crows that force the scarecrow workers to do their evil work. DC Entertainment brought together the superheroes of its Justice League to raise money for needy families facing starvation in the Horn of Africa.

Duck Dynasty

The popular A&E show smashed all the previous records of reality show premieres when 11.8 million people tuned in to the first episode of the second season back in August. This Halloween, expect to see lots of beards, headbands, sunglasses, and camouflage at parties.

Lesson for nonprofits: Duck Dynasty isn’t your typical reality show. While most reality shows succeed because of conflict, glitziness or outrageousness, Duck Dynasty is both goofy and value-driven. The show always ends with the family having dinner together. Just as Duck Dynasty has succeeded by being different, so can nonprofits. The key is to be yourself at your best, just as the Robertson family is at their best.

I met with a nonprofit not long ago that’s working to defeat a serious health condition. But if I told you what it was I bet it would make you smile. And that may be the key to their future success. Although it’s tempting to be like every other health charity that succeeds by tapping donor sympathy, this organization may raise more money by poking the funny bone first. When others zip, maybe they should zag.


Have your kids shown you the YouTube music video What Does the Fox Say? My kids did. I thought, What nonsense! Well, that nonsense has gotten nearly 120 million views!

Lesson for nonprofits: Nonprofits can benefit from following some popular occasions and trends, like the popularity of online video which has skyrocketed in the past several years. If your nonprofit doesn’t have its own YouTube channel, or isn’t experimenting with video-short services like Vine, you’re not acting like the clever fox. You’re acting like an ass.

Popular occasions offer another opportunity. And I’m not just talking about Halloween and Christmas. Nonprofits in the United Kingdom capitalized on the birth of the royal baby in 2013 with appeals, promotions and fundraisers. The Royals weren’t the only ones who had a big day.