Why our obsession with the 100% Donation Policy is holding us back as an Ummah
We’re in the last ten nights of Ramadan, and charity advertising is in overdrive.
Relentless emails, sponsored ads, TV appeals and crowdfunding campaigns are bombarding us left, right and centre.
Alhamdulillah — it’s all good. We’re spoilt for choice, plenty to choose from.
Take your pick. Spread it out. Give and give some more. May Allah accept it all from us, ameen.
But what dictates how we choose? Naturally, with the surplus of choice, comes analysis paralysis.
For some, they have their regular charity they know and trust. They’ve given to them for years and no need to deviate. It’s become tradition and habit and part of their identity.
For others, they might donate to causes near and dear to their heart. Or to people they admire.
Some automate their giving.
For a few, it may be impulsive. They’ve received an email or have seen an ad, it moves them in the moment, and they click.
For many, they split it between a few. There might be a thought process — some strategic, some humanitarian and off you go.
There’s one thing you can probably guarantee though.
What will shape many if not most people’s thoughts, is the 100% donation policy.
This has become the ultimate status symbol, the badge of honour that gives the charity credibility and ticks the all-important box of proving legitimacy vs the evil scammers.
Just a quick Google of it and many Muslim charities are leading with the 100% donations messaging. And if they don’t, they lead with 100% Zakat policy (most people don’t read in detail anyway so it does the job.)
It is the default, de facto decision maker that tends to tip the balance for many.
We even saw a ridiculous 200% donation policy being promoted earlier in the month — to stand out from the crowd.
Nowadays, if any charity is anything OTHER than 100% donation policy, the response for many could stem from it diminishing their credibility to a full mob mentality, baying for blood.
But here’s my controversial take on it.
The 100% donation policy is overrated. There, I said it.
It’s certainly not the be-all and end-all when deciding on the merits of any given charity.
Let me explain.
In our minds, if a charity is anything LESS than 100% — then we think the bosses must be using the rest of the funds to line their pockets, buy a Bugatti, travel on private jet and use the rest to have caviar on cruise ships.
We demand hyper-level transparency (forgetting the charities are already heavily audited) and in our Yelp review-driven culture, we become demanding customers demanding white glove service instead of humble charitable donors seeking to serve.
But let’s not take the barakah out of the act itself. Be easy going, have husn-al-dhan (think good of your brother) as a default.
Let’s not forget the reason WHY we’re giving charity. The purpose of charity giving is to earn Allah’s pleasure.
Allah is the one who rewards your intention to donate. So why do we feel the need to control the HOW and WHERE the donation goes and, to the letter?
Don’t weaponize your donation or try and micromanage every aspect of the transaction.
Surely that is the job of a charity, to utilise the money in the best way. Let them do their job. You do yours.
If we extend the toxic cancel culture that is consuming our society to our approach to the charities. it can curb or cripple the ability of the nonprofit to do good work. Instead of being empowered to do whatever is in their power to perform their work, unclouded, we put more pressure on them to perform the way the mob wants.
What does the mob know about the administration and distribution of charity?
In fact, one of the 8 allowed recipients of Zakah funds in the Quran are the administrators of charity.
Lots of this mindset is because we lack context.
When we lack context, we negate nuance. So here’s some context for you now.
Who would you say are the biggest non-Muslim charities in the country?
Oxfam comes to mind. NSPCC. Barnados. The RSPCA. Cancer Research UK. British Heart Foundation. Great Ormond Street. These are household names that are universal, non-partisan and have such a strong brand presence that they are known by most.
Did you know there was a report a few years back from True and Fair Foundation which studied the annual reports and accounts of all UK charities and they found that one in five (1,020 out of 5,543) of the UK’s biggest charities spent less than 50 per cent of their total income on charitable activities!
Spending on “charitable activities” was defined as “all costs incurred by a charity in undertaking activities that further its charitable aims for the benefit of its beneficiaries”. I.e. going to the end beneficiary, the leper in Libya or the orphan in Oman.
Some of the charities mentioned at this type of level were some of Britain’s best-known organisations such as Cancer Research UK, the Guide Dogs for the Blind and the British Heart Foundation. There was a BILLION-pound foundation on this list whose total spend on charitable activities was only 1%!
In my research, I couldn’t actually find a single non-Muslim charity who has a 100% donation policy. They only seem to exist in the Muslim space.
Now to balance this properly, of course, this report was very controversial when it came out, and was questioned and challenged by many heads of big charities as being misleading or a misrepresentation of actual facts, and perhaps too simplistic in its methodology.
That is fine — I am simply sharing some headline numbers to give you a wider context around how charity is considered in the wider (non-Muslim) world. You don’t hear of non-Muslims demanding 100% of their donation MUST go to the end cause. And these are some of the biggest names out there. They have become big universal brands because they’re allowed to get on with it.
Islamic Relief is the biggest Muslim charity out there. I like the fact they are transparent and openly admit to not having a 100% donation policy. They go on to break it down clearly 87% of their funds to go the beneficiary, 9% towards marketing and 4% on admin. Fair enough.
According to the Charities Commission, the public ‘now trust charities less than they trust the average person in the street’.
Although these are old figures (circa 2016) — I’d say the perception of charities has never been lower. According to data published by Salesforce, 64% of non-profits have seen increased demand for transparency of funds over the past few years.
Whether it’s budget allocation, programme results, impact measurement or engagement metrics, charities are facing increased pressure to be more transparent about how their funding is gained and used.
This is not to say we don’t need more transparency or we shouldn’t call out charities who do not use their funds ethically. Absolutely we should. And there are more than a few charlatans out there. We definitely should be vigilant.
But I am saying we need to be more mature in our mentality and to be less hyper about things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. How will your life change if the charity donate 98% or 100% of your funds?
A lot of this reminds me of the story of the Heifer in the Qur’an. A cow was to be sacrificed. But the people asked question after question unnecessarily, to the point of reducing the entire sincerity of the sacrifice. They might as well not have bothered — in the end it made their hearts harder, instead of it being an act of worship for God.
Look, I don’t work for a charity and I never have done. I’m also not affiliated with any. But what I am passionate about is the Ummah moving forward collectively. One thing that means is we also need strong, powerful institutions doing great work.
We hear so many negative stories about charity abuse, but not enough positive ones.
We seem to always need a bad guy to vent our frustrations at.
But in a landscape that can feel like the Wild West, and with huge challenges to navigate already, we can at least not add unnecessary complexity with overly entitled demands.
They’re not perfect, by any means. Charities are often disorganised, constantly firefighting and all over the place at the best of times.
We also don’t see much innovation from charities because innovation is risky. And more risk is the last thing charities want to embrace.
But if you want to build institutions and organisations that will stand the test of time, like we have in the non-Muslim world it costs money on boring stuff like staff and infrastructure. And yes, even on brand building and marketing too.
It’s unsexy, yes.
But is it necessary?