Donor education is the key to the future of Islamic Philanthropy

Tufail Hussain

Director, Islamic Relief UK

In 2018, the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) published a finding on ‘giving’ in the Muslim community, which concluded that £130 million had been donated by British Muslims in just one month alone – making them the most charitable community in the UK. Recurring headlines like these have been a shining beacon for Muslims and the Muslim charitable sector alike. Yet, in the same breath as these staggering successes, the Muslim charitable sector has and continues to struggle matching these numbers with the calibre of our donor education. During my time in the sector, I have seen how this has hindered the progress of creating substantial change for the communities we serve.

As in most religious traditions, to care for those who are less fortunate forms a key tenet of the Islamic faith. In Islam, a system of obligatory charity (zakat and fitrana) and voluntary charity (sadaqah and waqf), forms the steady foundations on which charitable giving in the Muslim community thrives.

The Qur’an includes this famous verse:

“They ask you (Prophet) what they should give. Say, ‘Whatever you give should be for parents, close relatives, orphans, the needy, and travellers. God is well aware of whatever good you do.” – Qur’an | 2:215

These philanthropic systems no doubt hold an influence over those huge numbers donated each year, however the generous amounts donated also speak to the esteem in which charity is held in the Muslim community. This spirit of giving is cultivated out of the same philanthropic virtues of altruism, optimism, and trust, shared by humanity across religions and belief systems.

Over time and with advancing resources, Muslims in the UK have been able to capitalise on their charitable duties, manifesting in the growth of the Muslim charitable sector. The Muslim charitable sector in the UK traces its humble beginnings to the 1980s and 1990s. When I first joined the sector in 2005, my main concern for the first five years was mitigating donor fatigue. I realised it need not be.

During these same five years, Muslim charities were growing at a phenomenal rate, and the charity that I worked at grew from a £1 million to a £10 million-a-year charity within three years. Donor fatigue was not something I would have to worry about for our sector, my concern instead shifted to our culture of giving.

Because as giving as this community is, the approach of Muslim charities to collecting funds had been traditionally unsophisticated. Unlike mainstream charities, we were, and are for the most part, not data-driven, and are poorer at feedback due to the assumption that our donors will continue to give regardless.

This has led Muslim charities to focus on pushing appeals for simple interventions, such as food packs and water pumps that, albeit crucial in circumstances, will not address the downward cycle of poverty. Furthermore, the measure of success remains fixed on the recurrent 100% donation policy issue (guaranteeing that no administration costs will be taken from donations). This distracts from the incredible thought leadership our sector is capable of, like  Islamic Relief’s micro dam project which is  tackling a multitude of insecurities for communities across the world.

Our efforts in parts of this crucial work have been, and continue to be, misplaced. By centring our programmes and appeals around those we serve rather than being donor-led, we can accelerate the process of substantial and effective change. This is achievable by closing the delta that exists between our donors and the donation journey – which will create a true and long-lasting impact. Simply put, we must educate our donors alongside our ground-breaking programmes work. When we engage with our donors in this way, we don’t seek merely to impress them with the good work being done; we propose ways of working together to achieve common goals.

Fortunately, the next generation of donors are asking the right questions and are sharing stories of real change. Our work in the Muslim charitable sector is ongoing: quality philanthropy everywhere depends on our ability as charities to move away from transactional relationships with our donors, and towards education and collaboration with a laser focus on the people we serve. Here lies the potential for great impact.