Q&A: The power of faith-specific fundraising

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A relief effort on the Syria-Lebanon border by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish NGO that often delivers aid to Muslim populations. Photo by: Mustafa Öztürk / IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

ALICANTE, Spain — As donor bases dry up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations may now start to reflect on how to expand them, according to Naeem Raza, a fundraising consultant specializing in strategy, training, and campaigns to engage with Muslim and ethnic markets. That could involve beginning to engage specific religious demographics.

“Fundraising is about networks, about relationships, about contacts,” he said. But oftentimes when organizations are “sitting comfortably” with the funds they have raised, they don’t feel the need to reach out to different demographics, Raza said. But it just takes a 1%-3% shift in funding — which unfortunately is happening because of COVID-19 — to change things, he added.

Earlier this year, 60% of global development professionals surveyed in Devex’s COVID-19 Trends Tracker said they were concerned their organizations wouldn’t survive the pandemic.

While organizations are often worried about whether a religious community might fund a particular issue, Raza said, the Muslim community in particular is open to new ideas and new ventures. However, he warned against a fundraising approach that simply targets a religious community for a one-time donation and encouraged a longer-term approach.

Speaking with Devex, he shared advice on putting together faith-specific fundraising strategies and discussed the role of faith-based giving.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What would be your take on the importance of having faith-based organizations involved in development work?

Focus on: Faith and Development

This series illuminates the role faith actors and their communities play in strengthening global development outcomes.

I'm going to speak as a Muslim. ... The Quran mentions the role of mankind as being a steward of the planet. … We have a responsibility for how the Earth evolves and develops. … It's the same old adage about giving a man a fish to eat for a day or teach a man to fish for a lifetime. Otherwise, we're just guilty of waste, to be honest, if we don't really get into development and look after the longevity and sustainability around us. I think most faiths, if not all of them, would lend to that.

Certainly for me, as a Muslim, the whole issue of sustainability is really important. I appreciate that there are times where we have to deal with disasters and emergencies, but even at that point, we need to have plans for the future.

I've been witness myself many times when charities have come on board, helped during an emergency, and then walked away, and people are still living in the same situation. Just look at Africa — for example, Band Aid and Comic Relief. We still deal with the same issue sometimes, so we have to really look at sustainability generally when we get involved in this area of work.

Also, now there's a huge demand and pressure from the donor about how sustainable [their] donation is going to be and how far it [is] going to go. And we're seeing that. Charities are coming up with products that are longer-term — even something as simple as giving somebody a sewing machine or a food parcel [per] month. We are getting to that point.

And I think, unfortunately, donors — as much as there is a demand, equally there are many donors that don't look at longevity. If you look at education in the developing world, it's a massive issue. A lot of children can't go to school because they can't afford it or there are no schools nearby, but try and sell that as a sustainable development package to a donor and it can be quite cumbersome trying to find people. Whereas for our own children, we want to get the best education possible.

So there's a Catch-22 sometimes — not finding the right donors for this kind of work. But as charities, it's important we start to move that model and look at a more sustainable world generally.

What role do you think faith plays in giving?

In Islam, for example, we have this concept of “sadaqah jariyah,” which means “ongoing charity.” It's actually trying to package it in those particular words. And sadaqah jariyah is something that goes on beyond your lifetime into your hereafter, so packaging is really important.

For example, there was a water solution. ... Selling it as a water solution, people wouldn't understand it. [But] if I sold it as a water well or a hand pump, people would come running. Once we coined it as sadaqah jariyah, it became very successful. So how you package it and how you show the long-term impact — not only of the project, but for the individual who's giving from a faith perspective … is really important.

You’ve previously spoken about the need for specific funding strategies to appeal to certain religious demographics. Do you think enough charities do that?

A lot of charities, unfortunately, their demographics, their donor base is dying out. Barnardo’s, for example, has an older demographic, so trying to appeal to the younger communities, the masses, is a challenge.

Q&A: Islamic Relief CEO on faith-based fundraising during COVID-19

While many organizations have seen their income and fundraising suffer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Islamic Relief Worldwide has seen a surge in faith-based giving.

A lot of charities are trying to diversify, and the next big pound is the Muslim pound. That's the most generous community in the U.K., if not worldwide, when it comes to giving to charity. And a lot of charities ... they don't want to develop a strategy, they don't want to develop those relationships, to understand what it's all about.

I did some training just before lockdown started, and more recently two or three new clients have come forward and want to go on that journey. Charities do want to do it, but they don't want to invest in the journey. A lot of them just want to come in and it's a one-hit wonder. And donors do see through that — that they're just on the platform to get money from us. … You have to invest to reap, unfortunately.

Simple things like understanding “zakat,” its policy, what might work, what might not work, which countries might work better, the terminology, understanding religion, where does charity actually fit in, what is the different type of charity in Islam. Charity per se isn't even an instruction in Islam; it's something I give up on my own will, but the reward of giving it is phenomenal. There is a whole host of terminology and background, and people need to just live the religion for a couple of hours to understand it and see where the whole concept of charity is entwined.

What would be the first step organizations should take in trying to connect with the Muslim community in particular?

They need to speak to somebody who's in the know and analyze what donor base they have, what access they have, what context they have, and what projects they have. Sadly, I think a lot of times, charities don't realize that.

They need to start exploring and have a chat with someone like myself or another Muslim consultant or even another Muslim charity they're close with or have had some dealings with, even some of the Muslim staff or volunteers potentially. Get to know a little bit, find out a little bit more, put a few feelers out there.

It is really about time. First of all, it's about getting into the marketplace, introducing yourself. Let's say it's an online strategy that needs support throughout the year; it's not something you do just at Ramadan. It does need some investment, without a doubt, but it doesn't have to be a huge investment.

Devex, with support from our partner GHR Foundation, is exploring the intersection between faith and development. Visit the Focus on: Faith and Development page for more. Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of GHR Foundation.

About the author

  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.