Scaring Up Revenue For Halloween

October 28, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

While many of the nation’s charities eagerly anticipate the holiday season as their peak time for fundraising, Halloween is prime time for some nonprofits.  For Goodwill Industries International, Halloween has become a welcome opportunity to sell more merchandise and raise more money.

“Traditionally, October is our highest retail month,” said Charlene Sarmiento, a spokeswoman at the Rockville, Md., headquarters. “People are always looking for affordable costumes and we’re happy to give them that opportunity. In addition to people looking for costumes, we also get plenty of Halloween decorations and costumes.”

For charities that operate thrift stores, October has become one their busiest months as Halloween enthusiasts look for a more creative touch than just buying a costume at a superstore.

In the past two years, October was the highest sales month for Goodwill, according to Sarmiento, representing about 10 percent of the year’s total sales. Second to October is typically March, which earned about 8.5 percent of total revenue in 2009 and 2010. “We have really seen an uptick of people coming in the past five years,” she said. “We have been trying to use social media to alert our friends and followers of various Halloween events happening at our stores.”

Among the events that have expanded Goodwill’s engagement with donors are “Ghoulwill Balls.” Usually held the week before Halloween, these are costume parties that include auctions, dancing and “spooky entertainment.”

Goodwill Industries of Redwood Empire in Santa Rose, Calif., has had particular success with these events, according to Stephanie Munson, director of donor relations and development. Their 2010 event sold out — raising $38,300 — and this year was projected as another sellout. “Halloween really works best for us,” she said. “It really was the primary reason why we did these fundraising events around Halloween. Another Goodwill affiliate had the idea, but we made it our own.”

UNICEF has been synonymous with Halloween for years. Like The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign during the holidays, the distinctive orange box has been recognized as UNICEF USA’s annual trick-or-treat campaign for more than 50 years. And like the Red Kettle, it’s ramping up its online presence.

“We have had to make sure the program maintains its historical authenticity, by encouraging kids to help other kids,” said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of UNICEF USA in New York City. “At the same time, kids don’t play like the way they used to. I wanted the program to be hip enough and fun enough, while not giving up who we are.”

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has raised $164 million since its inception, with Stern predicting $5 million in contributions this year. Now supporters also can give online to UNICEF campaign.

In a “Virtual Costume Party” on a UNICEF micro-site, supporters are encouraged to upload a photograph of themselves and apply a “costume” provided by UNICEF.

There are three tiers of costumes. The first has basic costumes like ghosts and witches, which are free and as costumes and avatars become more elaborate they require a donation of $5 or $10. The images can then be shared via Facebook or other social media platforms. More than 1,500 costumes have been created since the campaign launched Oct. 3, and it’s projected to raise more than $20,000 when it ends today.

“We wanted to incorporate all these traditional elements into a ‘party with a purpose,’” said Vijita Kumar, interactive marketing officer at UNICEF. “We’ve created 18 templates and think we are seeing a campaign that has created excitement on the online space.”

UNICEF’s reach into the online space is not limited to the costume party, as last year the charity launched a smart phone app that encouraged users to carve a pumpkin.

“We try to target families with our trick-or-treating campaign,” said Stern. “It’s the opportunity for parents to have a conversation on why philanthropy is important. ‘Fun’ and ‘philanthropy’ do not have to be exclusive terms. It doesn’t have to be painful. You can do fun things and help people.”