The Big Issue: Talking Faith, Fundraising & Diversity
12th May by Jo Hastie
Over recent months, AAW have been working alongside our friends Basit Khan and Adil Husseini from the global consultancy practice Friday Promotions. Our work together has been focused on the area of Islamic giving and the potential for not for profits to maximise opportunities for income growth from this very large and very generous global constituency. Basit and Adil are also currently very busy helping Leadership Teams, Trustee Boards and Development Advisory Groups think about how they bring more diversity and talent into their teams and how they can engage more authentically with the British Asian community.
This evening marks the start of the celebration of Eid and we thought this was a great opportunity to catch up with Basit to explore the areas of faith, fundraising and diversity.
How did you get involved with the charity sector?
My introduction to the charity world began at the mosque when I was around five years old - my grandfather gave me a pound for the collection and I asked him whether I could keep it for sweets!
It was then that he shared some Islamic teaching which has guided me through all my charity work: when you leave the Earth, there are three things a person should leave behind: raising righteous and pious children that will go on to do good work, the knowledge you impart to people and how they will benefit from that and finally charity and the good work you do – it’s all based around the ethos of changing lives and leaving a legacy, and that has stuck with me.
I joined the global humanitarian agency Islamic Relief straight after University as a Community Fundraiser – my father wasn’t happy about it, as he didn’t feel it was a ‘proper job’ after the high investment in my education. However, after six months I left to join a financial advisory firm specialising in Islamic finance and qualified as a tax consultant. I stayed there for six to seven years dealing with high net worth Asian clients, but felt something was missing in my life. On its 25th anniversary Islamic relief beckoned again, asking for help with engaging with the HNW Asian market in the UK.
Initially, I was focused on making introductions but I quickly realised that the charity needed help with stewarding relationships and it was then that I established a highly successful major donor fundraising programme. Alongside my role at Islamic Relief, I continued to run my own tax consultancy practice. So I guess, I finally managed to get the right professional balance I was always seeking.
Shortly after I was appointed Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief, my father retired and was looking to fill his time with voluntary work – so he came and ‘worked’ for me! He was really proud of the work I was doing at Islamic Relief. That was the icing on the cake of my charity journey.
Can you tell us about Ramadan and how giving is intrinsically part of Islamic culture?
Ramadan is the most holiest of months in the Islamic calendar. We fast from dawn until dusk, sacrificing food, sleep and intimacy with our partners for more nightly prayers, to connect with God and to do good to others. The idea is to train ourselves in best practise for our behaviour for the rest of the year and Ramadan represents a multiplying many fold of the heavenly rewards for good actions, aiming for a good life after death.
Alongside fasting, Zakat – compulsory charity giving - is one of the pillars of Ramadan; an instruction from God to Muslims to give away 2.5% of their liquid wealth. We believe that the poor and the needy have a right to this money and this in turn helps to purify our own wealth.
All of us pay tax, which goes back to helping society but it's not a word or a concept we like. But Zakat is a request from God that we give directly and we can choose where to send that money. We give it gladly.
Also central to Ramadan is the concept of Sadaqah, a voluntary form of giving leading to multiplied blessings as you are giving from your own free spirit and desire., From my experience Zakat typically represented 40% of income generated during Ramadan, but 50-60% came from other forms of giving.
What do you think the opportunities are for UK charities with fundraising targeting the Muslim community?
There is a large affinity within the UK Muslim community with countries of origin such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but we are seeing a shift for the third generation of donating to UK causes as well. There are definitely opportunities for the UK charity sector within this changing landscape and to be aware of both Zakat and Sadaqah.
But charities need to be cautious in their approach. The Muslim community predominantly gives to Muslim charities because they speak their language. What I mean by that is understanding from a faith perspective what Ramadan is about and the various conditions set by God.
I would recommend that charities are not opportunist but communicate with authenticity, understanding why someone would be giving in this month and why it's important to them, with a genuine reason for approaching them at a particular time.
For some mainstream international charities this would include helping Muslim communities overseas and of course many charities work on issues that affect everybody such as cancer, but be sensitive and authentic in how you approach people.
Tell us about your TV career
As Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief, I was involved with live appeals on the Islam channel [a global channel that broadcasts to more than 136 countries], when they asked me if I would like to be an anchor on the show, reporting back as donations come in from around the UK live through the night. From there I soon became a host of the flagship show ‘Living The Life’ (similar to the BBC's The One Show), presented the ‘5 Pillars’ game show and travelled the country sampling different cuisines on the ‘Iftar Run’. The highlight for me was in 2014 when I hosted the live coverage of the Hajj from Mecca and was able to perform my own pilgrimage for the very first time. It was a unique experience and definitely the pinnacle of my career as a TV presenter. This Ramadan I continue to present charity live appeals, where for the first time in the channel’s history we raised over £2million in one night for Muslim Hands appeal for Yemen.
Tell us about your latest venture as a bridge between companies, NGOs and the Islamic Community in the UK.
I left Islamic relief in 2015 when I was approached by a tax firm in the City to become their Business Development Manager, with an offer I couldn't refuse. But once I had started, something in my heart was telling me this isn’t what I want in life – my passion is changing lives for social good.
I was having a discussion with my good friend Adil Husseini who I had travelled the world with through Islamic Relief about our shared institutional knowledge and work experience and about, as consumers, our enjoyment of food, fashion, retail and travel. We thought about all these brands that aren’t really talking to us or not in the right way, using the right language; realising there was a gap in the market for someone to connect brands to the Muslim and South Asian communities.
Friday Promotions was born off the back of that (so called because we always met up on a Friday and because Fridays make us all feel good) to help companies diversify their brands and promote positive relationships within the BAME community.
Diversity and inclusion are more important now than ever, for both commercial companies and also third sector organisations. We've already helped three international charities, providing information on what the Islamic market looks like, helping with policies and an engagement strategy for that community, recommendations on what is the right time of year to approach that market and providing advice on what a Ramadan campaign should look like.
We all know that there is an issue with a lack of diversity in the charity sector. Do you have any recommendations to leaders to address this ?
There is no magic answer, but it's knowing how to deal with the unconscious bias in all organisations.
Again, it's about authenticity and recruiting people on merit. We know that if your name is Mohammed, you are less likely to be invited to interviews; I know people who are very good at their jobs but have not got past that hurdle. There are a lot of brilliant people out there with vast experience and we have to give them a chance.
We also need a top down approach from senior management – very few CEOs of charities are from a BAME background.
Engagement starts with the community – go and talk to them, ask them what their perception is of your organisation. Also talk to people with different backgrounds in your organisation and learn about their culture. There are various organisations on social media, for example, currently encouraging employees to try and fast for a day to understand what their Muslim colleagues are going through.
We don't want to push people to a point where they think whatever they do is not enough, but if you want to engage with the broader community you have to ensure your organisation and your materials are inclusive, with representatives from a wide section of society. If you are approaching a particular community, ask yourself - will someone you are talking to be able to say ‘this looks and feels like me?’
The AAW Group would like to wish all of our friends who have observed the holy month of Ramadan 'Eid Mubarak'!
If you’d like to find out more about how your organisation can develop strategies around faith-based giving or would like to discuss how you can increase diversity in terms of leadership and representation, please contact Basit at email@example.com.