Shifting Focus to the Community

Carol Argiro, Director Advancement, Huckleberry House

Here are some things you should know about me.

  • I walk through the world as a white, heterosexual woman and with all the privilege that comes with it, no matter my life experience.
  • I have worked in the nonprofit space in central Ohio — first in arts and culture and now in social services — for nearly 30 years.
  • I believe that I am good at my job. I am passionate about serving my community. I am an engaged citizen.

It was three AM in April. I was worried about my old back injury getting angry from the ground, still cold from winter, below me. The night seemed so long, morning still so far away. It had been stormy, the way it is in April in Ohio, with spurts of rain and occasional flashes of lightning across the sky, which reflected off the Olentangy River and the skyline beyond. I knew the smell of this rain and the sound of this wind. Columbus has been my home most of my life. But I had never seen it like this before.

For the first time in my 30 years of nonprofit work, the populations my organization serves are majority individuals of color, individuals with low/no income, and young people with trauma and mental health challenges that for me, are unimaginable. That night, I only got a small look into what young people go through every night. This was my first Sleep Out!, an event and fundraiser that Huckleberry House, the organization I now work for as Director of Advancement, hosts annually.

Before this first Sleep Out!,  and before I started working at Huckleberry House, I had become aware of Vu Le, who runs the website Nonprofit AF, and the idea of Community-Centric Fundraising. Over the decades, I have been indoctrinated in donor-centric fundraising, where the needs of the donor should be the priority and that the donor should receive benefits as a result of their giving. I was good at it, but Vu flipped that idea on its head and seeded the obvious. The community is the priority and donors are the partners of nonprofit fundraisers. This was a radical shift for me, but I couldn’t find a reason to resist.

At Sleep Out!, I was so angry and so sad. How is it possible we allow young people in our community to be without safe and stable housing, without food, and without healthcare? Why must we compete with other organizations to raise funds for even the most basic needs? Social services are not amenities in our cities. They are the very things that our neighbors deserve.

Laying on the ground that night in April, I knew I was safe. My husband was next to me, and I was surrounded by people who cared about Huckleberry House’s mission, donors, friends, and family alike. Some folks slept out because that was something they had experienced at one point in their lives and understood what it meant. Coming together is the first step. As the rain fell just beyond the roof of the tent, and sleep eluded me, the sky began to streak with the first hints of the morning sun, and my heart was stirred by a vision of individual donors grabbing our hands and marching with us, or more fittingly for this night, grabbing their sleeping bags and joining us in our dreams.

The nonprofit community can and does play a critical role in advancing equity and justice, and the way we fund the work we do should be steeped in equity and justice too. I have a lot to learn and sometimes the conversations can make me confront uncomfortable realities, but if the result is that every person in our community has what they need, I’m willing to be a little uncomfortable. Are you?

For more information about Huckleberry House, please visit: https://www.huckhouse.org

For more information about Community Centric Fundraising, please visit: https://communitycentricfundraising.org/

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