October 28, 2011

As Halloween Approaches, Nonprofits Turn to 'Undead' Donors

Zombies often get a bad rap for their ghoulish ways. But it turns out that they also have a penchant for giving.

A growing number of nonprofits are taking advantage of the recent popular fascination with zombies by playing host to "Zombie Walks"—events in which horror fans dress up in their undead best and gather for fund-raising walks that raise money for their favorite causes.

In some cases, they are raising significant money. For example, Friends for Life, a nonprofit animal shelter in Houston, raised $8,100 earlier this month from a horde of ghouls ambling through a suburb in West Houston.

"The way that we tied it in to our mission and what we do, is that we're a no-kill shelter," says Kim Domerofski, communications manager at Friends For Life. "Zombies are undead, so for us, we're trying to keep as many undead animals, undead."

The Houston event began when Amy Lewis, an information-technology specialist who volunteers at the group, heard about a similar undead walk in Australia. She had hosted other fund-raising events before but had trouble attracting interest. That changed when Ms. Lewis decided to give zombies a try.

"It really picked up," she says. "Every year we get more zombies, more photographers, more vendors."

She estimates that 1,200 zombies attended the most recent walk, now in its fourth year. The suggested donation was $15, but people were also asked just to give what they could afford. In previous years, Ms. Lewis used the walk to raise money for a local food bank and an organization that supports U.S. soldiers.

Other groups have had success raising food donations through zombie crawls. The Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana, in Shreveport, for example, collected 1,460 pounds of food and $330 in donations at its recent zombie walk. Last year, a similar event produced 851 pounds of food for the organization.

"That's been kind of the whole tongue-in-cheek thing about it—zombies are always hungry," says Michelle McCary, a b-movie lover who has organized the Shreveport walk for four years. She estimates that 500 people, including many families with children, came out to walk this year.

The crawl, which in years past took place in a local mall, moved to downtown Shreveport this year. Ms. McCary said the organization received a lot of free publicity from the city's tourism office, which advertised it on digital billboards, and from a local radio station.

"Even people who don't normally like that kind of stuff come out of the woodwork," she says. "It's become a monster of its own."

And if the trend continues, charities may soon face an interesting question: Do undead donors prefer an e-mail or handwritten thank-you notes?