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She’s a social worker by trade, a philanthropist since age eleven, and co-founder of one of the most unique giving circles in the United States. Fatima M. Smith is everything you want to see in a circle leader: Building off her own desires for community wealth, social equity, and the empowerment of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, Smith and her co-founders designed a giving circle model that works for everyone.
Collective 365 is a giving circle from the DMV – the area around the United States capital that includes DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Their grantmaking focuses on community organizations and nonprofits making positive waves in the DMV, but they don’t limit themselves to funding organizations with traditional operating structures.
For example, Smith mentions a woman from her community who came up with a clever solution for a community problem. In Virginia’s Hampton Roads area, a neighborhood woman noticed children getting off school buses in the afternoon and having nowhere to go – some kids’ parents were away at work, while others took the long trek to the library because they didn’t have Internet access at home. And without reliable access to technology, these kids couldn’t get their schoolwork done.
So a community member found a unique solution: She solicited the neighborhood for old laptops and desktop computers sitting unused in basements and garages and set up an unofficial computer lab in her house. Suddenly, neighborhood kids not only had a safe space to hang out after school, but also a place with reliable access to the Internet and software they needed to complete their assignments.
Smith points out that under traditional funding structures, this woman would never receive critical funding.
“She’s not a nonprofit. She just saw a need and decided to meet it,” says Smith. This community member’s project was the spark that turned Collective 365 from an idea to a reality.
“We’ve been conditioned to think that the only people who can help us are those nonprofits,” Smith adds. “But, if you can describe a problem, then you can describe the solution. All you need is time, space, and resources.”
And that’s where Collective 365 comes in. Their trust-based grants provide not only unrestricted funding but also help open doors for their partners in the future.
“It helps that our bylaws are loosely written. That was intentional. We wanted to have the ability to flex for the community,” says Smith.
This “flex” approach carries into Collective 365’s application process as well. The application itself is simplified – just 26 questions, only 6 of which require short answers beyond the usual checkboxes or fill-in-the-blanks – and can be completed online, over the phone, or through a pre-recorded video. What’s more, applicants who miss out on a grant cycle can register on Collective 365’s website and be sent a link the moment the new application goes live.
The idea for Collective 365 first came around in 2016, and by Juneteenth 2020, the organization was ready for its soft launch.
Today, Collective 365 is made up of around 100 members across three membership tiers: General Members, who contribute their time, talent, and input with no financial minimum to join; Voting Members, who meet a minimum $50 contribution and carry decision-making power for grantees; and Donors, who offer a financial commitment without a requirement to volunteer.
Collective 365’s progressive, trust-based grantmaking programs are focused on empowerment in Black and Brown communities in the DMV, but membership is not limited by location, age, gender, race, or just about anything.
“The thing that ties us together is our passion to celebrate and invest in Black and Brown communities,” says Smith.
The simplicity is beautiful: By simplifying application processes, grantee relationships, social media outreach, and community building, Collective 365 is able to move quickly and effectively for maximum impact – all at the word “Go.”
Collective 365’s grantees aren’t limited to funds-based support. Capacity-building needs and wants are part of the application process, with an emphasis on trust-based funding that puts the power in grantees’ hands. We see this concept in action in the 2022 grant cycle: Collective 365 gave $17,500 in unrestricted funding to United Black Birth Collective and Peter's Place. Further, during their 2021 grant cycle, 26 of Collective 365’s 200+ applicants received support from giving circle members who had time and talent to share, like a photographer to update a nonprofit’s staff photos, a social media manager to assist with online presence, and more.
“Despite racism, despite oppression, we’re still opening our hearts and our checkbooks,” Smith says of her community. “Collective 365 is not perfect. We’re on a journey to justice – it’s not a destination. We keep our ears and hearts open to learn what we can do better – what we can do more and less of.”
The love for community colors every effort at Collective 365. The push for social, racial, and economic justice for Black and Brown communities moves forward by de-centering whiteness in giving, leveraging social capital and privilege of certain members in a way that is directed by leaders of color.
“My liberation is tied to your liberation,” Smith says to white philanthropists, whether they hold membership in Collective 365 or not. “[Black philanthropists are] not out here trying to solve a problem we didn’t create. We want you to come along with us, and hear us as decision-makers and thought leaders … we’ve been surviving, but we want to shift it to thriving now. We’re controlling what it means to be worthy of funding, to be worthy of justice.”
And to you, our reader, Smith concludes, “Share this message with at least five people. The more we talk about reimagining philanthropy and trusting Black and Brown folks to be thought leaders, the better off we are. Let’s collaborate and keep having these conversations.”
To learn more about Collective 365, their mission, and their needs, we encourage you to visit their website at https://www.collective365.org. Activists, individuals, and organizations working for Black and Brown empowerment in the DMV are encouraged to spread the word on Collective 365’s grant application (Open Feb. 1 - March 1).