I always like to give a bit of history before I talk about the main topic, particularly when it comes to fundraising in the Middle East, the region I belong to and where fundraising is deeply rooted; and yet there is little (authentic) information available about on the internet. A tiny warning before you continue reading this post, it is longer than my usual blogs. Also, it is impossible to cover all aspects of fundraising in the Middle East in one blog post, but consider today’s blog a trailer!
Fundraising in the Middle East goes back to the early times of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) when the Arabs gathered themselves under the leadership of their Prophet and formed a State, and there rose an urgent need to fund an official army. Although this topic could take hundreds of pages, I will just mention it as an early reference where Arabs donated money, dates, wheat and other resources to fund the Army of Hardship (Jaish Al Usrah).
The Middle East is a predominantly Muslim region and philanthropic giving is regulated under two pillars of Islam, the first being Sadaqah (general charity), which refers to a philanthropic act of charity. Sadaqah can be given for any amount and to any cause/purpose. The second pillar is Zakat (mandatory charity), which is 2.5% of a believer’s total savings which are more than a year old. It is important for us to know that the word ‘Zakat’ in Arabic means ‘that which purifies’, i.e. giving Zakat will purify you as a person.
Modern-day Fundraising in the Middle East
It is crucial to know that fundraising in the Middle East (particularly the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC) is restricted to registered charities and permitted initiatives. Fundraising is regulated by local ministries in each GCC country, usually the Ministry of Social Affairs or equivalent.
International organisations can also fundraise by registering in the country they are interested in OR partnering with one of the registered local charities. Usually, the local charity will charge a percentage to partner in this fashion. I can provide more details about the legality of fundraising in the Middle East but I want to focus here on the opportunities and what can be funded from here.
Is Middle East a good place for fundraising?
Absolutely yes! The UAE and Saudi Arabia are officially among the most generous nations in the world, according to the final report of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The UAE's total aid stood at AED 15.57 billion in 2016, accounting for 1.21 per cent of the gross national income (GNI).
The GCC countries, in general, have official development arms such as the Kuwait Fund for Development, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and the Saudi Fund for Development.
There are dozens of philanthropic NGOs that are led by government officials and members of the ruling families.
In addition to this, the UAE has created the International Humanitarian City (IHC), which is a free zone area dedicated to NGOs and non-profit organisations. The IHC is considered to be one of the largest logistical hubs for humanitarian organisations in the world.
Furthermore, the year of 2017 was declared the Year of Giving in the UAE. Throughout 2017, the country launched several initiatives to support charitable sectors in the UAE.
What causes can be of interest?
Anything that can make sense! In general, Arabic donors are interested in projects that are tangible and have concrete outputs. Like most donors, they focus on projects that can leave a major impact.
During an informal meeting with a director from the ministry in the UAE that is responsible for providing official aid on behalf of the government, I asked the director, “When you receive a proposal from certain organisations, what makes you decide between funding a particular project and declining another?” “Quite simply, the impact,” he replied!
I will list a few causes that will attract the attention of a majority of Arab donors:
Water projects: there are so many references from the holy book of Quran that talk about this. As an example, several stories from the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) mention an incident where a man who provided water to a thirsty dog went to heaven. There is a whole chapter about this from the life of the Prophet.
Projects that target women and children: from my experience in international markets, these types of projects attract the attention of all donors.
Projects that have traceable cost unit: projects that can be packaged in a way that donors can see a traceable cost unit will attract Arab donors.
Projects that have a partnership with a local entity: if you can form a partnership with one of the local entities that is linked to famous persons of influence, it is easier to get further donations from many donors from the Arab world.
Projects that can be replicated in the Middle East: any project that could be replicated in some of the Middle-Eastern countries could be interesting here. One thing you should avoid when planning your fundraising operations in the Middle East is to make people think you are here to take money away from the region (to your head office!) rather than investing in the region. Even if the local investment is a relatively small portion, it definitely makes a big difference in public perception.
All types of medical projects: these could be very interesting to donors and lead to large funding.
Projects that could require volunteers from the Middle East: volunteering has increased recently not only in the Middle East but in many other countries in the world. Many corporates in the UAE allow their teams to volunteer for charities during working hours.
There are many other types of projects that can be fundraised in the Middle East, but I have focused on the main ones.
How can I access new donors in the Middle East?
Well, the answer to this is quite simple! Arabs, in general, prefer to do business with people they already know. If you are a stranger in the Middle East (as an organisation), then what would you do to make friends? I’m sure you know the answer – increase awareness through marketing about your organisation and the brand you want to showcase in the region. The best (and cheapest) way to do this is to partner with a famous local charity, which could also help you overcome legal issues in operating in the region. Another solution would be to approach your embassy to introduce you to a local influencer from the targeted countries that you want to operate in, on the premise that this individual could be your ambassador or honorary president.
You could also partner with entities in the region to organise events, stakeholder meetings or conferences. While this could require an initial investment, it would open many doors for you.
What form of fundraising works?
Depending on the legal set up in the country you are operating in, this could include individual fundraising, institutional fundraising, corporate fundraising and face-to-face fundraising (the last one is considered a form of individual fundraising here in the Middle East).
I hope you found this overview informative, as I said, this is just a teaser! You are welcome to write to me if you want to learn more about fundraising opportunities available in the region.