Tonight marks the start of Ramadan, a holy month in which Muslims across the world fast, pray and reflect on the teachings of Islam. This year’s Ramadan will be undeniably different due to the Covid-19 pandemic as Muslim’s across the world are largely all in lockdown.
My team at Human Appeal have been planning our 2020 Ramadan campaign, Now Is The Time To Give, for ten months. It’s been disheartening having to cancel many of our firmed-up plans, but I’m enormously proud of my team for demonstrating huge agility under pressure as they have had to come up with new ideas and innovations to fundraise during lockdown.
Ramadan is a huge fundraising moment for Muslim charities. Charitable giving is one of the five pillars of Islam, and helping the poor and needy is ingrained within our faith. Those that are able to pay a compulsory 2.5% of their qualifying wealth to charities, known as Zakat. We believe that during Ramadan our good deeds and charitable donations will be rewarded seven times over, so it’s a busy time within any Muslim charity. Last year we raised 40% of our annual income in this period.
Community events are a fundamental part of Ramadan. Muslims fast throughout the day, visit Mosques more frequently and celebrate via iftar’s with friends and families at sunset. In 2017 Human Appeal organised an incredible 313 Ramadan events – all over a 30-day period. These could range from anything from small street collections, Quran recitals or large-scale events for up to 1,000 people.
Traditionally our most successful events have been our Grand Iftars, which taken place on Laylat al-Qadr, which is the 27th night of Ramadan. On this night Muslim’s believe that Allah will reward you for 83 years of worship for any good deeds. It’s a very popular day for Muslims to give to charity. On average we raise around 10-15% of the year’s income on just one night, and individual events on this evening have been known to raise up to £1m.
Adjusting our plans
Clearly in lockdown we can’t host these events. Not only do we miss out on the vital income that they generate, but they are always a great way to raise awareness about the work that we do and strengthen the relationship that we have with supporters.
We want people to know that as the impact of coronavirus on UK society becomes clearer, we are here and we are helping, by delivering thousands of meals to our NHS heroes as well as homeless and other vulnerable people. We're also targeting our global support to some of the world's poorest regions, where we have given hygiene kits to over 1,000 people in Pakistan and cleaned the water in 288 wells in Palestine.
Like all agile businesses, we’ve had to adjust our plans and devise new tactics to move as much activity as we can online. It’s not been easy, but it seems to be working well as we’ve had some initial successes that we might not have had otherwise.
Digital can reach into the homes of supporters
There are three elements to our online strategy; engagement, individual giving and donor giving. Digital is a great way to reach into the homes of our supporters and let them know about our Ramadan activity and plans.
We have been busy in the past few weeks with our pre-Ramadan phase where we put events, such as webinars, together to try to whet the appetite of our community. We have been asking our supporters to give pledges during this time. Once given a pledge has to be delivered during Ramadan so it’s a good indication of what income we might expect.
We’ve had some great success with individual giving so far and have been helping volunteers set up their own fundraising pages. Essentially we’ve worked hard to find the right people with strong online presence to raise money for us. We’ve enlisted the help of dozens of influencers so far, one of whom, Fatih Seferagic, has already raised $58,000 for us.
We want to utilise our time in the lockdown to strengthen our existing relationship with donors.
One thing we’re doing this year is hosting one-to-one zoom meetings to give donors an experience of where donations went, how that projects is coming along and what impact it’s had. We’ve never had time to dedicate to this before, but it seems to be working really well for us so far, as our donors are home as well with additional time on their hands to talk.
Just last week we spoke to a family who have since decided that they will aim to raise £30,000 for us to help us transform an entire village in Tharpakar, Pakistan where we will be installing a solar powered water plant, giving them lighting and electricity and training on how to grow their own crops and making them sustainable. It’s unlikely they would have made this commitment without our one-to-one approach.
So we are making good progress, even in tough circumstances. The Ramadan period is always intense for fundraising teams within a Muslim charity. They involve really long days at work – which is intensified by fasting.
This year my team won’t be out and about across the UK as they usually are, but they have already been challenged by having to cancel venues and travel bookings, sort refunds, reforecast income and create new fundraising activations online - all whilst adjusting to home working and the day to day anxiety of the pandemic. They’ve done a brilliant job of coping physically and mentally and I want to thank every one of them, and I’d like to wish everyone else Ramadan Mubarak!
Zaheer Khan is director of fundraising at Human Appeal