Saturday April 2 marks the start of Ramadan, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It’s also a time when Muslims typtically make donations known as Zakat. 

With the World Bank estimating that Zakat contributions may reach up to $600 billion, this month could be a significant potential funding source for charities, nonprofits, and international NGOs. The size and scale of this opportunity can make it a crowded space, one where Islamic charities undoubtedly have more credibility and proprietary knowledge. However, this should not be a deterrent for secular charities who wish to use Ramadan as a way to connect with and build support with potential and existing supporters.

And, for those looking to do that, here are five things to keep in mind:

This is not about mindless consumption but mindful abstention.

A lot of organisations – both within the charity sector and beyond – are trying to tap into the perceived benefits of this holiday, without taking the time to consider the values that underpin the practices of the month. Communality, which is a key theme, goes beyond simply breaking fast with family and friends. It also extends to the practice of praying in congregation, sharing with one’s neighbours, and feeling spiritually connected to the global community (Ummah). Equally, Ramadan is about self-evaluation and introspection – a time when Muslims take stock of their lives, refining themselves, their thoughts, actions, and habits. Consider how these and other principles, led by these audiences, could inform your approach and content.

For non-faith-based organisations, venture outside of your comfort zone.

Instead of viewing this with trepidation and nervousness, perhaps see it as an opportunity to test new content with new audiences as a growth exercise for both sides. Speak to Muslim donors to understand the motivations for why they give to specific causes; some may have personal affiliations with specific countries or crises, whilst others may tend to give to causes “back home”. Some Muslims give to different organisations to fulfil these requirements, or split their Zakat contribution across a few specific organisations. Understand the nuances between different kinds of Islamic giving (e.g. Zakat, Sadaqah, Sadaqah Jariah, Lillah, Fidya etc), and ask audiences how your organisation could do more to help fulfil these giving needs.

Understand the spiritual significance of Zakat, and how it fits within the context of Ramadan more broadly.

The act of giving Zakat is about more than just paying a wealth tax or tithe. In fact, the word “Zakat” has a dual meaning, translating to both “purification” and “growth”. Giving is central to the ethos of Islam, but since Ramadan is the most sacred month, Muslims believe that the good deeds that they commit during this month hold even greater weight and significance. For Muslims, the act of giving is reciprocal, in that by giving you spiritually “gain”. (See Muslim Aid’s new Zakat campaign give, gain, grow, which leans in to this idea). Whilst some Muslim audiences may give because it is “mandatory”, I would argue a signficant proportion of potential donors are conscious of – and greatly value – the spiritual and esoteric aspects of giving too.

Communicate your understanding of the technical criteria surrounding Zakat collection and distribution.

Zakat carries certain restrictions, as to how it can be collected, how it can be stored in a bank (it cannot accrue interest), as well who can be classed as a Zakat beneficiary. The technical and legal requirements are something that Muslims take very seriously – and since Islamic organisations have historically been the only charities to clearly communicate that their practices are Islamically compliant, they have been able to establish this trust with Muslim audiences. To get Muslims to part with their Zakat, you must close that trust gap and communicate clearly, authentically, and respectfully that your organisation takes this practice seriously, and has taken the necessary steps to accommodate these requirements. 

This could and should be the start of a year-round journey and engagement programme.

If you are only looking to speak to these audiences at this time of year, then perhaps this isn’t the right approach for your organisation. If Muslim audiences feel as though they are only being spoken to during the month of Ramadan, it could come across as a superficial and opportunistic form of engagement. Surprise! Muslims exist (and give) throughout the year – not just during Ramadan. For charities that are struggling to set up the necessary infrastructure needed for Zakat collection and distribution, there are other ways to engage Muslim donors outside of this holy month. Think about productising different aspects of giving that may resonate especially with Muslims donors (key themes here could be: water, food, supporting orphans). As you would with any other audience, consider the role you would like them to play within the organisation, ask them for feedback and input, and consider how they can get involved on an ongoing basis.