The following is an excerpt from an article posted on philanthropy.com in May 2019:
As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan with prayer, fasts, and acts of service, Islamic charities are now in their busiest fundraising period of the year. Ramadan has long been a season for charitable giving by Muslims, but recognition of this group’s philanthropic heft is spreading as its population grows, and the potential for supporting charities of all kinds is becoming more apparent.
Most nonprofits — religious or secular — depend on giving during the last two months of the year to meet their financial needs. Events like Giving Tuesday and the tax deadline of December 31 help encourage donations during this period.
But charities that reach out to Muslims can also do well this month, and some experts say it would be smart of charities of all kinds to take this fundraising period more seriously.”For us, it’s a little bit different because we get Ramadan as a boost and then we get end-of-year as well. That really helps us,” said Akrama Hashmi, managing director at the Islamic Medical Association of North American, or IMANA, a charity that provides medical relief and continuing medical education.
Muslims are expected to give to charity in two primary forms: zakat and sadaqah. Zakat donations amount to 2.5 percent of a Muslim’s wealth and are given annually, typically during Ramadan. All other charitable giving is considered sadaqah and can be donated at any time.
To meet the zakat requirement, Muslims can give to any charity that works to promote social justice, said Shariq Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Muslims are expected to use their zakat donations mainly to focus on poverty alleviation, human rights, and caring for those in need.
Zakat donations can be essential for Islamic charities. For example:
- During Ramadan, IMANA receives donations that account for half of its annual budget, and its medical-relief program brings in 75 percent of its funding during the month.
- Islamic Relief USA, an aid charity, collects 40 percent of its funding from Ramadan donations. It works with food pantries nationwide to provide holiday food packages to Muslims for the month.
- Muslim Advocates, a civil-rights organization, raises an estimated 30 percent of its annual funds during Ramadan. This year it plans to reach out to people of other faiths who have seen their religious views under attack.
How Charities Can Benefit
Some Muslims may choose to support non-Muslim charities through zakat. (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, has an established zakat fund.) Charities that don’t reach out to Muslim donors during the holy month are “losing out,” according to Siddiqui.
He encourages secular and faith-based charities to identify how their missions overlap with the religious themes of Ramadan. Becoming familiar with the principles of Islam and the Muslim lunar calendar and including Muslim supporters on boards of trustees can also help charities tap into Muslim generosity.
Most Islamic charities already understand the value of Ramadan giving, but they have to work hard to stay on potential donors’ radar throughout the holy month. As with end-of-year giving trends, Hashmi said most Ramadan donations occur during the last 10 days of the month. At IMANA, there’s typically a two-week lag between when the charity sends its initial direct-mail appeal and when donations start coming in.
“You’re like, ‘Oh man, why is [giving] low right now? Why is it not coming?’ You’re anxious. And then, when the last 10 days hit, it’s just like, ‘Oh, OK, cool.’ We know this [happens] every year, but we just go through the whole drill in our heads,” Hashmi said.
Tap Into the Holiday’s Focus
Muslims reflect on three themes during the holy month: mercy, forgiveness, and refuge. Ten days are devoted to reflecting on each theme, which provides a useful structure for a fundraising campaign.
IMANA incorporates these themes into the two emails it sends to supporters each week during the holy month. Each email describes one of the charity’s medical-relief programs. A verse from the Koran relating to the current phase of Ramadan accompanies each description, along with a request for a donation.
On social media, IMANA posts “Ramadan tips of the day,” with guidance on observance of the holy month, such as how to fast. Hashmi said the organization then appeals for donations from users who engage with these posts.
“It’s all going to coordinate — the social-media posts, the ads, the e-blasts — as the progression of Ramadan goes and leading up to the final 10 days for optimum fundraising,” said Brenda Aranda, communications manager at IMANA. Muslim Advocates uses Ramadan as a time to spotlight its work on protecting religious freedom. During the holy month, the charity is mailing a letter and sending a follow-up email to supporters written by a board member of a mosque in Carmel, Ind., that was able to secure a building permit with the legal aid of Muslim Advocates.
“He’s somebody who directly benefited from our work in a way that other people in the community can relate to,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of the civil-rights group.
Muslim Advocates also hopes to engage members of other faiths in support of their work. “This Ramadan, with the number of faith communities under vicious attack, I think we’ll be calling on allies more than ever to stand with us to stop bigotry in its tracks,” Khera said.
Make New Friends at Mealtime
The Ramadan fast itself, and the daily need to break it, provides an opportunity to engage new donors. IMANA’s website, social media, and emails promote the opportunity for members to host an iftar, an evening meal at which Muslims break their fast. These fundraising dinners can be held at homes or mosques and help IMANA reach new donors. At mosque events, in particular, the charity can reach hundreds of people.
Attendees have typically been fasting for more than 12 hours and appreciate the catered meal. “It really helps them, at that moment, because it’s a time of some discomfort. People, emotionally, can really connect with the organizations that are helping them break the fast in their mosque or at their home,” said Nabile Safdar, vice president of IMANA’s board of directors and a medical doctor.
Islamic Relief USA also encourages its supporters to host iftars and collect donations from guests through a donation page on the fundraising platform Classy. The suggested fundraising goal for these dinners is $500 each.
The charity also runs a food-distribution drive in advance of Ramadan, putting together packages of rice, oil, dates, and other items. Islamic Relief USA works with food pantries around the country to give the packages to families in need. Supporters can give $60 to feed an American family.
Islamic Relief USA uses Facebook and Twitter to publicize these food-distribution drives. “We use social media to highlight our work,” said Daud Mohmand, national events and projects manager at the nonprofit. He added that the charity collaborates with Muslim public figures, such as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the former NBA basketball player, who post on social media about their support of the nonprofit.
Engage Past Supporters
Because Muslims focus on their faith and community during the holy month. “This is definitely the right opportunity to reconnect with individuals,” Mohmand said of Ramadan.
Throughout the month, Islamic Relief USA sends one set of email messages to donors who have recently made gifts and another to those who haven’t. Recent donors receive a holiday greeting and a direct request for a donation, while those who have not given for a while receive details on the charity’s work and explanations of why the organization is worthy of a gift.
IMANA uses a similar strategy. Messages to people who haven’t given recently usually touch on programs that depend on donations and highlight how the work meets the need, said Safdar, the group’s board member. The goal is to give previous donors “the opportunity to see if they want to be part of that story again,” he said.
With messages that align with the holiday’s religious themes, these charities can reengage some lapsed donors and energize committed supporters during Ramadan. The strategy is useful for other faith-based charities as well. “Your donor base, they are faith-inspired. Take advantage of that,” Mohmand advised.
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