When the COVID-19 global pandemic began more than 12 months ago, no-one was aware what was really lying ahead. For Muslims celebrating Ramadan in 2020 during a national lockdown, it was surreal - mosques were closed and shared meals in the evening to break fast, were no longer possible.
In 2021 though, it’s even harder to understand yet another Ramadan during a time of government restrictions. Although the UK’s third lockdown is slowly easing, the holy month of Ramadan (from 12 April to approximately 13 May 13) defined by fasting, prayer and charitable giving, is still very different.
For Muslim-led charities, Ramadan is like a lifeline when marketing campaigns go up several gears. For the larger INGOS this means garnering support with direct mail, email campaigns, live TV appeals and lately, an introduction to automated giving systems. For the smaller charities, it can mean WhatsApp messages, phone calls and emails. Many Muslim-led charities gain at least 25 to 40% of their annual fundraising through their Ramadan campaigns, due to the increased emphasis on charitable giving at this time
Muslim-led charities, like all others, have suffered tremendously because of COVID-19. Unlike many larger, mainstream organisations, Muslim-led groups tend to rely solely on community giving and therefore have just a singular income stream model. MCF’s research over the last year exposed just how true this was – large proportions of the Muslim-led small-medium charity sector have not used other methods of fundraising such as corporate sponsorship or major giving. Only 16% had accessed mainstream funding for COVID-19 response and most had never considered applying for grants at all (MCF ‘The Neighbours Next Door’ Aug 2020). Through the pandemic the vast majority relied upon their rapidly depleting donations whilst dealing with a staggering rise in need – serving predominantly BAME communities, those historically under-funded, dealing with systemic discrimination and now, disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
With this Ramadan, COVID-19 is still with us as we work against further waves and move towards recovering from the issues of the last 12 months – both those new to us and those which have been a long-time coming to the fore. For Muslim-led charities, Ramadan will focus yet again on online giving in order to raise as much this year as they are typically used to. After one of the most challenging years ever, every donation really does count in order to help those in need and keep limping, weakened not-for-profit groups afloat.
When it comes to recovering and preparing for a post-COVID-19 era, online giving is a platform that many smaller Muslim-led charities will have had to quickly adapt to. Whilst the largest Muslim INGOs have embraced online giving in the last 10 years in a move towards embracing the power of the younger donor, for others it isn’t a typical donation route. Websites can be expensive to create and maintain when expertise is better spent on phone calls and letters to the regular, older generation donor base. However, COVID-19 has forced the hand of many smaller, grassroots organisations – pushing them towards online giving, crowdfunding and social media in a bid to survive.
Because Ramadan is such a significantly spiritual time, the opportunity to gather donations during this time is high. A report by MCF in 2018 showed that British Muslims gave a staggering £130m in donations during the 30-day period, with many Muslims making donations almost every single day. This generosity is commendable however it can also come at a price – leaving the donor vulnerable to organisations who are not genuine or governed properly, relying upon those who give in faith not to ask questions.
This year, at MCF we are once again running our Give Smart and Give Safe campaign to educate donors about the increased importance of checking where their donation is giving. Checking the Charity Commission website, the organisation’s Zakat policy and verifying the messages received via WhatsApp are all essential to ensure good fundraising practice and donor protection. Our guide is circulating online accompanied by awareness-raising resources which draw the importance towards protecting donations and ensuring they really do reach those in need. Accountability and transparency remain hugely important not just from a governance perspective but also in line with religious and spiritual practice.
To support the campaign, we have also re-launched our Ethical Fundraising guide for charities to ensure that intentions and practice stay focused on the spirit of Ramadan. Muslim-led charities are defined by their faith and as such it is just as important to protect the staff and volunteers within an organisation to ensure they can also gain as much as possible from this blessed month. To fully support the sector, in all it’s wonderful shapes and sizes, we know that learning from donors is important. Our Donor and Volunteer survey is the first of its kind, researching the current attitudes and opinions towards Muslim-led charities so that they can be better empowered.
The generosity of Muslims and the hard-working, pro-active nature of Muslim charities during the COVID-19 pandemic is amazing. Sharing best practice and ensuring that Muslim charities are in a strong position to embrace the changes that COVID-19 thrust upon us, is imperative to help as many come out the other side of the pandemic as possible. For the communities who rely upon these charities, they have been and will continue to be a lifeline of support.
Give Smart and Give Safe: Watch Muslim Charities Forum's short video to guide donors when deciding to donate here.