23 October 2021 | Others | Gabrielle Gean

Squid Game – 6 Games, 6 Fundraising Lessons

Squid Game, a nine-episode Netflix series, follows the tale of 456 heavily indebted people who participate in a mysterious survival game vying for a ₩45.6 billion (US$38 million) prize. The twist? They must risk their own lives.

The storyline of win or die is straightforward but the roots of symbolism run deep. Capitalism has reared an ugly side and some people have gone rogue in its ferocious and brutal competitiveness. Intended for the wellbeing of communities, sensible capitalism has become senseless and dangerous.

Just like the number of games they play, here are six takeaways on why we love the show and what it says about fundraising.

Warning: Spoiler Alert

cast members' photo

1. Red Light, Green Light: Focus and be decisive

The game is easy – players must move and run to get to the line on the other end when the green light is on and freeze during the red light. A creepy giant doll-shaped robot turns her back and sings the phrase that matches the game’s Korean name. Once the doll sings “red light” and turns her head around, they immediately discover that the cost of continuing to move isn’t simply a disqualification, but a bullet.

First game. Red light, green light.

So, how does this relate to fundraising? When the deathly rules of the game become clear, rather than remaining frozen and obeying instructions, many players start to panic and run for the exit.

The ones that survive manage to recognise the brutality of disqualification and quickly adapt to their new reality. In the non-profit world, listening and adapting to changes are key. Understanding your beneficiaries’ needs and your donors’ sentiments while bridging the two is never an easy feat. Stay focused on your goal and listen to your stakeholders, and you’ll surely have a winning combination!

2. Sugar Honeycomb: Observe, you can always learn from those around you

To survive or go through the next game, the players must perfectly cut out the shape in the honeycomb with a needle within a 10-minute time limit. There are four shapes to select from: circle, triangle, star, and umbrella. Choosing a complicated shape will be tough to pull the form out due to the time limitation. If players shatter or even crack the honeycomb before the timer runs out, they are ‘eliminated’.

All participants monitored during second game, honeycomb.

The fundraising lesson here is don’t rush and observe other strategies or plans. Just like when Player 456 takes the time to examine his honeycomb and realises he can melt it by licking it – his observation skills and quick thinking allowed him to succeed. Others around him notice this and try the same method, saving them from being ‘eliminated’.  

Similarly, you can learn to recognise what plans might work best and readjust the strategies according to your non-profit culture and tactics. At the same time, take care in crafting your fundraising ask, observe, and try new things.  

3. Tug of War: There is power in diversity

Tug of War is simple, right? They just pull the rope along with the opposite team and get them to your side. But in Squid Game, the losing team will fall to their untimely demise. In this game of strength, with a team comprising of male and female, young and old – how do they stand a fighting chance against a much stronger team? Our hearts skipped a beat at this point! Thankfully, they managed to turn their supposed weaknesses into strength. Coupled with being open to new suggestions, they took a risk, got strategic and won!

Main characters preparing for third round, tug-of-war.

This tells us that being stronger doesn’t mean you’re way ahead of the fundraising journey. Same goes to the size of the non-profit. Each of us has a role to play in the world of nonprofits. We are all accountable to one another during the fundraising process. In this case, partnering and exchanging strategies with other non-profit organisations will encourage a multitude of benefits, including the improvement of brand exposure, advocacy voice, programmes expansion, and exploring new ideas.

This game taught us to keep an open mind and learn from each other’s experiences. Diversity in teams help to bring out new fundraising ideas and tactics. We love to practice a ‘Yes and’ approach when it comes to idea generating – no idea or opinion is too small!

4. Gganbu Forever: Partnerships can be found in the most unexpected places

Within 30 minutes, a team of two must take all the marbles from their partner in any means possible. Isn’t it simple? NOPE! Keeping to the theme of no return, the two players on each team will face off against each other. Our natural instinct when asked to pair up is to partner with an ally, so when they found out they have to go against a partner whom they found some solace and friendship in, made this arguably the most heartbreaking game!

However, the one thing we learnt from here is that your friends might not always be the best partner for your campaign. Step out of your comfort zone and look into different types of partnerships.

Players 067 & 240 bonding during fourth round, marbles.

In Squid Game, when most players spend their time playing marbles to win, Player 067 and 240 choose to “enjoy” the last 30 minutes of one of their lives. The choice to do so showed us that the journey we take doesn’t have to be unenjoyable (even though we have to make the tough choices) – the journey is our own and we shape it. Although not ideally partnered up, they set clear expectations from the start and communicated to better understand each other to make their choices. It shows us that unexpected partnerships can be scary and unsure – but set forth clear expectations and communicate them clearly from the beginning.

5. Walking on Glass: We’re all in this together

Before exposing the game, participants must select a number between 1 and 16. There are two rows of glass platforms and in numerical order, the players must step on the tempered glass to cross the bridge safely. If they tread on standard glass, it will shatter and crack, leading them to fall (they seemed to like the idea of falling to your demise in this show). The first ones in line had bigger odds of falling, while being the last ones will give you a fighting chance. We find out later that one of the players knew how to spot the differences in the glass – he just never shared his knowledge with the earlier players in order to ‘keep his advantage’.

Remaining participants preparing for fifth round, walking on glass.

Of course, we aren’t asking you to walk on glass. However, what we can learn is to share knowledge with each other, and don’t be afraid if you’re not ‘ahead’ of other people. We are all working towards a common goal and even though we might be from different organisations, advocates of different causes, we are all in it for the greater good.

6. Squid Game: Don’t compare yourself to others

To win the final game (and the prize), the players can employ any trick they can think of. The attacker must break through the defence and step onto the squid’s head. The defender will do everything to stop the offensive and keep him off the field. The last player standing wins it all.

Final game

To be honest, at this point we are trying hard to find a lesson to learn (especially with the intensity of the game). However, Sang Woo (Player 218) concedes with the realisation of his actions and his motivation behind them, and in this, lies the lesson…

As he realises the reality of doing horrific acts with the intention of keeping up a false pretence that he was a successful banker, he realised he had looked down on people like Gi-Hun (Player 456) his whole life and recognises that his mistakes led him to this point, versus others who were led by failed systems. 

Perhaps we will never really figure out if he ‘surrendered’ as a final act of ‘morality’ or that he just couldn’t face the demons of the acts he’s committed, but one thing we do know is that – don’t compare yourself to others. Ego got him into the situation and by comparing himself, he felt he was better and had to prove this by embezzling funds.

As with any fundraising campaign, don’t compare your organisation to others. Everyone moves at a different pace, and all we can do is help each other along the way.


Everyone is given an equal chance to succeed in Squid Game’s man-built surreal world. Where they come from or what they used to possess no longer matter here, except for their skills in getting out alive. Choices were limited in their lives and circumstances pushed the players into choosing this surreal world where they could either turn their lives around with a prize or lose their lives.

Choices are what we face every day. Do we choose the difficult or easier path, the selfless or self-gratifying ones? Although the film depicts the choices of the ultra-rich and those who struggle as shockingly dark and unjust, in our real world by and large, it’s a balance between selflessness and selfishness.

The cloak of despair is thick in Squid Game but optimism is present, a helping hand is offered, a selfless sacrifice is given. We too strive for better infrastructure systems, as non-profits open the grounds for hope. Our fundraising work continues to seed trust where there’s none and restore faith that’s been lost. Yes, the road is long but our journey is well worth the effort.

Do you have other fundraising lessons from Squid Game you’d like to add on? Feel free to share with us in our LinkedIn comment section.

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