Giving in an emergency

A Circle round-up outlining what you need to know about funding in a crisis and how best to support affected communities in the aftermath of disaster

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Giving in a crisis is different from regular philanthropy. Time matters, but while decisions need to be taken quickly, they should not be haphazard because ill-conceived emergency funding can do more harm than good by negatively affecting local markets and suppliers, duplicating existing help, and in some cases, creating dependency in place of resilience. 

During 2024, a record 300 million people are forecast to need humanitarian assistance and protection. In many parts of the world, fresh outbreaks of armed conflict and climate-induced extreme weather events have led to further mass displacement, catastrophic hunger, economic instability, and associated food and fuel price shocks.

In December 2023, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched a funding appeal, asking donors to contribute $46.4 billion.

According to OCHA: 

  • One in 27 people around the world need humanitarian assistance and protection.
  • More than 1 percent of the world’s population is displaced.
  • The MENA region accounts for 30 percent ($13.9bn) of humanitarian needs.
  • The Palestinian, Yemeni, and Syrian conflicts remain the largest crises in the region, affecting some 53.8 million people.
  • Globally, only a third of humanitarian needs are funded.

“Humanitarian assistance cannot be the entire solution; we need to share the load,” noted Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator.  “It’s time for much more development and other financial investments in fragile settings and marginalised communities...The challenges are immense, but I believe that together we can turn the tide.”

The needs are huge and are only likely to grow during the months to come. This page aims to help you identify what donors can do to help, know more about who is doing what and where, and learn how to fund in an equitable and sustainable way. We will continue to update it regularly with new resources.

Seven ways to be effective

The moment you see a new emergency on the news, it is important to act swiftly but to also ensure your support is effectively helping the communities affected. The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a US-based organisation providing resources, consulting, and program management services to philanthropists, put together a list of seven ways to effectively respond to humanitarian crises. 

  • Source your information wisely and with local knowledge. Find out who the experts are in the field and who are the major donors and organisations that have already been working in the country or region. Try to fund local and grassroots organisations, where possible, as they can offer powerful partnerships for change and have most likely already identified the challenges and established what solutions are effective and culturally appropriate. 
  • Take a humanistic, holistic approach to humanitarian aid. People who are affected by conflict need more than just their basic needs met. In many cases, they will require temporary housing, mental health support, education, and other services to help them survive. You also need to be mindful of the specialised needs of persons who may be particularly vulnerable in an emergency setting, including children, women, and persons from minority ethnicities, and with different sexual orientation, religions, and beliefs. You can learn more about this in the "Beyond the emergency" section below.
  • Recognise that in a crisis, context is complex, and flexibility and proximity are key. In emergencies, situations can change dramatically from the first hours to the first few days - and that includes the needs of the affected communities. Make sure you are regularly consulting with your network of organisations and stakeholders who are already on the ground to know what they need support with. 
  • Remember that every crisis is interlinked with broader societal issues. Media, civil society organisations, and also access to reliable information are threatened in many emergency situations, especially those involving armed conflict. Efforts must also be focussed on protecting those important aspects of society.
  • Balance immediate and longer-term responses. Longer-term needs and strategic interventions are key in crisis response, and giving is done more effectively when donors educate themselves about long-term solutions and tap into their network of experts on the ground as well as local partnership opportunities. You can find more guidance on this point in the sections below.
  • Be mindful of other funders. Coordinate with other donors and funders. It can help make your contribution more effective and you can maximise the impact of your interventions by collaborating. Make sure you are complementing efforts and not duplicating them. TPI recommends looking at resources and webinars offered by organisations like the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) to understand more about what is needed in a crisis.
  • Go beyond the dollars. People can contribute more than just money to support those who are harmed by conflict or natural disasters. Use your influence and advocate within your community, your writing skills to author an article, or your home to host or sponsor refugee families. The point is that everyone has something to give, whether its their time, money, or other resources – find out what the affected community needs, what you can offer, and the most effective ways to support them.

Source: TPI: How to Effectively Respond to Humanitarian Crises Across the Globe

What to fund

Needs in a crisis are vast and varied. Affected communities require support in many areas and there are many ways your funding can help.

  • Shelter. This could be repairing damaged properties, providing communal shelter in an urban setting, or giving people materials to build their own temporary shelters in a camp setting.
  • Water and sanitation. Often referred to as WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), this is key in any emergency setting. Floods, for example, can lead to contaminated water sources, and in all crises, you may have large numbers of people housed informally and left without adequate sanitation, allowing disease to spread. That is why it is crucial to provide safe drinking water, waste management solutions (including lavatories, shower cubicles), and improving hygiene practices (supplying soap, sanitary pads, toothbrushes, combs).
  • Food and nutrition. Feeding displaced and crisis-hit people is one of the most urgent types of help responders can provide, and this could include rice, other grains, canned foods, powdered milk, or baby formula. In many situations, children and pregnant or breastfeeding women can be extremely malnourished and may require therapeutic or supplementary feeding programmes as well.
  • Non-food items or NFIs. This includes non-perishable essential items such as clothes, shoes, jackets, blankets, water containers, buckets, cooking pots and pans, heaters, and flashlights or solar lanterns.
  • Protection. Activities and programmes that aim to ensure the protection of the rights of all affected individuals, their safety, and security. It could include asylum or refugee registration (in displacement settings), protection from sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and exploitation, family reunification, shelters for unaccompanied minors or abused women, and access to legal assistance
  • Cash assistance. Giving crisis-affected people cash or vouchers for goods or services is a way to let them choose how they help themselves, especially if they live in cities or urban settings. They can use the money on food, clothes, shelter materials, or work supplies. It helps people find dignity and choice in a moment of otherwise vulnerable dependence. Many UN agencies and INGOs administer cash programmes.
  • Education. In the days after a disaster, education may not be the main priority, but according a 2022 UN report, more than a third of the 222 million school-age children living in ongoing emergency situations are out of school. That number is expected to have increased since then, given the scale of emergencies happenning now around the world. It is important to ensure children continue to access education, or they risk dropping out altogether, even if they are able to return home.
  • Health and medicine. This can range from providing first aid to those wounded by the conflict or environmental disasters, providing life-saving vaccines and interventions during disease outbreak, and maternal and child health, to supplying regular prescriptions such as insulin for diabetes or heart medication.
  • Energy. Power supply can be overlooked as a necessary part of crisis response. It can be interrupted or even completely destroyed during emergencies such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and war. This can leave entire villages without heat, electricity, or lighting – disrupting services in hospitals, schools, and water supply. Supporting energy projects and temporary solutions to restore power to affected areas can include providing wind or solar or hybrid-powered generators and water pumps, access to energy-efficient and environment-friendly fuels, building solar farms, and procuring and distributing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders as a healthier alternative to firewood for cooking fuel.
  • Mental health and psychosocial support. Mental health support is important in all situations where people have been affected by crises and especially when they have been displaced by violence or have been persecuted and physically or sexually assaulted and exploited. The type of programmes this could support include psychological first aid, psychotherapy, rehabilitation, and child-friendly spaces.

Who to fund

When conflict escalates, disaster strikes, or there is an outbreak of disease, philanthropists can do a lot to help. But often they are many miles away from where the crisis is happening, and unless you have direct links to the affected community, it can be hard to know who to contact and how to give.

There are many options. One of the most straightforward is to respond to a United Nations or Red Cross or Red Crescent appeal. To find a local red cross or crescent society, you can visit this directory on the website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). 

Another option is to support an international NGO, such as Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF - also known as Doctors Without Borders), International Rescue Committee (IRC), or Oxfam. Many will have international fundraising appeals, but these tend to be collected in US Dollars, GBP Sterling, or Euros, so you may end up paying a hefty currency conversion fee, depending on how you donate.

In the Gulf, agencies like UNICEF, UNHCR and Red Crescent Societies often launch their regional funding appeals to support overseas crises. An example of this regional response is an appeal by UNRWA to raise urgent funding for food and non-food items for Palestinians in Gaza, where more than 85 percent of the population has been displaced. Another is the Emirates Red Crescent, which launched a nation-wide campaign to support humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza. In both cases, the agencies will accept online retail donations as well as larger corporate gifts.

Many UN agencies have Gulf offices based in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC), as do some international NGOs. While others, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),  International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and International Labour Organisation (ILO) have their Gulf offices based in Kuwait. For UN organisations without a presence in the Gulf, you can find the contact details of their closest office on this website.

However, if you just want to make a quick donation to a crisis, look at the UAE-based YallaGive platform, Kuwait’s Give donation app, Oman’s, or Khair Plus from Bahrain. These are platforms listing licensed fundraisers for a variety of causes, including emergency appeals.

Remember, there are strict rules on fundraising in the region. Only give to licensed organisations or campaigns.

Giving locally

In crisis situations, it is more often than not that local organisations, civil society groups, or religious entities are the first to respond. It is also likely that it is going to be these smaller, local responders who will be contracted by UN agencies and INGOs to deliver the programmes they are promoting on their global fundraising pages.

Giving directly to these organisations can help get money to where it is needed most quickly and it is a way that philanthropists can empower communities to respond to their own challenges in their own way, without forcing them to be dependent on external aid.

Moreover, local responders know what the needs are and know how to access the most vulnerable, who can be overlooked by international aid agencies as they are less immediately visible in communities due to factors such as their location, language barriers, and culture norms.

However, philanthropists, corporate donors, and governments have traditionally shied away from this sort of localised giving because it comes with an element of risk. How can you trust these less well-known organisations if you don’t know much about them? What if they are affiliated to outlawed political groups, or criminals? Do they know what they are doing, and will they spend your money effectively?

Risk appetite varies from donor to donor and can in many cases be mitigated with good due diligence, a task usually shouldered by INGOs if you decide to go through them. However, there are still many structural barriers, including:

  1. Many of the smaller organisations from the global south do not have the capacity to fill in donor applications, let alone spend their money effectively. 
  2. Donors, likewise, do not have the administrative capacity to give smaller amounts of money. 
  3. Strict anti-terror and anti-money laundering laws make giving directly difficult.
  4. Donors are often under political pressure to fund through organisations in their home country.

To help smaller frontline organisations become eligible for overseas funding, consider giving flexibly and over multiple years, and allocating part of your money to supporting their own internal capacity.

Grassroots response

The aftermath of the Beirut port explosion in August 2020 makes a strong case for localised giving. Although large amounts of bilateral and international aid money flowed to Lebanon following the blast, it was local NGOs, diaspora and civil society groups, businesses, and individuals that spearheaded the on-the-ground response.

Here is how six very different organisations mobilised to support communities and rebuild after the blast:

  • Impact Lebanon is an initiative launched by members of the Lebanese diaspora to support community activism, entrepreneurs, and grassroots organisations in their home country. Impact Lebanon was the first to launch an online crowdfunding appeal following the explosion, raising more than $6m with donations, including from celebrities like Madonna, and George and Amal Clooney. Within a year, it supported 18 local organisations to restore more than 1,800 homes and 168 heritage sites and helped hundreds of micro and small businesses with cash grants and psychosocial support. Read more

  • Alfanar is the region’s first venture philanthropy fund, and one of the grantees of Impact Lebanon, focuses on providing sustainable support to the community in the forms of education, youth employment, and economic empowerment of women. In the aftermath of the explosion, Alfanar provided funding to social enterprises within its portfolio to rebuild and repair businesses and schools. In the process, it created 110 jobs for disadvantaged Lebanese youths in the construction sector and ensured the delivery of food to thousands of families. Read more
  • Beb w’Shebbek is a grassroots pop-up, the name of which literally translates to “doors and windows” in Arabic, and it raised close to $2m and mobilised local talent, including architects and carpenters, to repair around 830 homes and school playgrounds. Read more
  • Basmeh & Zeitooneh is a grassroots NGO based in Beirut initially founded to provide vocational training and support for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. After the explosion happened in the Lebanese capital, it raised $2.2m mainly from Impact Lebanon and the UAE’s The Big Heart Foundation to repair more than 100 homes, and provide food, water, and temporary shelter to affected refugees and Lebanese citizens and residents in Beirut. Read more
  • FabricAID is a social enterprise that collects, recycles, and resells used clothing. Despite one of its own premises being destroyed in the blast, it used its network and resources, including trucks, warehouse, and staff, to crowdfund, clear debris off the streets, and repair more than 50 buildings in the weeks following the explosion. Read more
  • Near East Foundation is an international NGO working in the Middle East and Africa region with a special focus on supporting livelihoods. It launched a Beirut Explosion Livelihoods Recovery Fund and raised $400,000. It used this money to work with local and international partners to support 130 affected micro and home-based enterprises recover, rebuild, and resume their business, and provide cash-for-work grants to pay local tradespeople to do the work. Read more

For more about the response to the Beirut Blast, read this article in Philanthropy Age.

Capacity building

There is an increased understanding about the importance of investing in the leadership and capacities of local organisations who are at the frontline of crises. Unless small NGOs receive direct funding, they will never have the ability to meet the demands of their donors around reporting and accountability.

Likewise, there is a growing sensitivity towards the need to decolonise aid, development, and philanthropy, and to make the process more participatory and equitable. It does not make sense for a US-based INGO to decide where and how to support a community affected by flooding in Pakistan, responses need to be led by the communities experiencing the crisis.

Yet, despite this, direct funding to local and national actors in 2022 accounted for just 1.2 percent of global funding flows for humanitarian assistance.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel was severely disrupted and crisis response fell to local organisations, there was a notable shift among donors towards funding smaller organisers. However, a December 2022 report by the Alliance for Empowering Partnership (a4ep) noted that this trend has since reversed and donors are once again focussing on international agencies over local responders. There has been no change in the allocation of funds since 2022.

Several initiatives are seeking to tackle this imbalance. One is Pledge for Change, launched in October 2022, which outlines an ambitious pathway for NGO reform by 2030 based on three core aspects:

  • Equitable partnerships – for example, directly implementing only when there isn’t enough national or local capacity to meet needs.
  • Authentic storytelling – moving away from storytelling associated with the “white gaze”, and putting an end to language that portrays aid recipients as helpless victims.
  • Influencing wider change - chipping away at power imbalances in the larger aid ecosystem.

The US-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) is a leading voice in supporting local responders in a crisis. In their Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, there are whole sections on how to support and vet NGOs, such as this tip sheet on local humanitarian leadership and this guide on vetting NGOs for disaster recovery, which you can also read more about in the further readings section at the bottom of this page.

Giving directly or through in-kind goods

If disaster strikes in your native hometown or country and you want to help, here are five things to consider before opening your wallet:

  • Find out which actors are responding on the ground.
  • Unless you are in the next village or town, don’t ship in-kind goods.
  • Find out who is producing and supplying the relief materials locally and donate to them.
  • Contribute resources (including trained staff, warehouses, money for generators) to local response organisations to temporarily increase their capacity.
  • Collaborate and coordinate with other philanthropists and pool resources to support local actors.

Rebalancing the scales

Although unintentional, many donors will put themselves at the centre of their giving and focus on how much they helped, and what was the impact of their contribution. Instead, donors should be listening to the affected communities because they are more likely to know what they need, and it is important to give them the dignity of choice and participation in decisions about their lives.

For more about power imbalances in philanthropy, watch this webinar titled “Decolonising Philanthropy”, which was moderated by Alliance Magazine and featuring a global panel of experts including, Shonali Banerjee, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the University of Cambridge, Yvonne Moore, Chief Executive and Founder of Moore Philanthropy, Urvi Shriram, Lead, Centre of Philanthropy for Social Justice at the Indian School of Development Management, and Dr. Jessica Sklair, Lecturer in the School of Business and Management and Fellow of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University London.

Some standout discussion points include:

  • It is not only organisations in the Global-North or former colonisers who are guilty of ‘colonising philanthropy’, but there are instances when foundations, family offices, and donor organisations based in the Global South are “trying to emulate what they see as Western best practice,” says Banerjee.
  • Many organisations are willing to have discussions but resist changing their behaviour - power over others – which key in ‘decolonising’ philanthropy.
  • To undo the colonial behaviour in philanthropy, one must understand just how deeply rooted colonialism is, not just in philanthropy but it is still present in the form of inequality, classism, and sexism throughout the whole global capitalist system.

Five ways to make your giving more equitable:

According to Fidelity Charitable, a public charity and donor-advised fund based in Boston, Massachusetts, if you want to advance equity with your giving, consider taking these five steps. 

1. Move from power-agnostic to power-aware. Nonprofits often feel forced to bend over backwards to secure funding for their work. Centring equity in your giving means being aware of these power dynamics and working to address them. You can begin to mitigate them by building mutually respectful relationships with nonprofits and show that you are adapting based on what you learn from them. Get to know the organisation by setting up a call with their executive director. Try to learn about what motivates the leaders you're speaking to: What keeps them up at night? What are they most proud of? What’s their vision for the communities they serve? You can build trust by expressing a genuine interest in why they do what they do and what their communities are experiencing.

2. Watch out for the “shiny penny.” While well-resourced organisations grab the headlines, consider supporting smaller and newer organisations that also do critical work. We often rely on websites and read grant proposals to help decide which organisations to support. And while this may show which groups have the resources to pay web developers and grant writers, it’s not always indicative of an organisation’s effectiveness or importance. Consider looking at groups that are made up of community members and centre community priorities, specifically communities of colour and communities where English may not be the primary language. 

3. Address the root causes of social issues. This principle is particularly poignant in this moment. While emergency cash relief for families of colour who have lost their jobs is a worthy cause, we must also examine our economic systems. Those systems have created a reality of millions of families without savings even before the pandemic, and now millions of households with no lifeline during this crisis. No amount of direct service will solve a social problem. We must look "upstream" to the policy and systems that have created or at the very least contributed to the problem itself. Some ways to address systems change include funding organisations focused on community organising, advocating for policy change, and building sustained movements for change. 

4. Flexibly fund organisations rooted in the community. Look for organisations with leaders and staff who represent the community they are serving. Keep in mind that people who are most impacted by a particular problem should be part of informing the solution. Rather than dictate how nonprofits should spend their funds, study after study has confirmed the need for philanthropy to provide flexible funding; after all, they are the experts and know best how to serve their communities. It is also important to consider investing in building the power of communities to advocate for change for themselves and their communities, rather than relying on others to swoop in and speak for them.

5. Keep learning and collaborating. No single funder can solve a social problem by themselves! Look for other donors and funders that are interested in similar issues. Get together, share information, and learn from nonprofits and the community members themselves.

The bottom line: ask community members directly what they need most.

Source: Fidelity Charity: Five Practices to advance equitable giving

Beyond the emergency

An important reason to fund local aid agencies in crisis response is that they will not pack up and leave when the next disaster happens elsewhere. Similarly, as outlined above, they are rooted in their communities and in tune with what people want and need, not following overseas policy or funding agendas which may prioritise “nice to have” programming, rather than core basic necessities.

Being a local responder does not, however, mean you have to be small. The largest NGO in the world is BRAC, which was founded in Bangladesh in 1972 by a then London-based Bangladeshi, Fazel Abed Ahmed (Sp), in response to major flooding. The organisation has gone on to build an ecosystem of locally rooted humanitarian and development responses focusing on reducing poverty, empowering women, supporting displaced groups, and helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change.

BRAC’s Executive Director Asif Saleh talks on The Impact Room podcast about the need for more commitment to build and strengthen the capacity of local organisations and why development dynamics need to change.

“What you hear is when you talk to the donors is that it's too risky to support some of the local organisations because they didn't have enough capacity and systems in place,” he argues. “But then how are these local organisations going to build their capacity if they are squeezed for every single penny? It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.”

The key takeaway is that when local organisations are supported, they can continue doing the work in the community they serve after the emergency phase has passed, and even grow to support others around the world, as BRAC does now with its operations spreading to eleven other countries.

“Over a third of private giving is done in less than the first four weeks of a sudden disaster...and two-thirds within two months. This giving stops almost completely after five or six months," notes William M. Paton, Author of Philanthropic Grantmaking for Disasters.

To many, crisis philanthropy usually means funding short-term emergency response projects to provide immediate relief to affected populations. Although that kind of support is vital and, in many cases, lifesaving, it is not the only effective way to fund response to crises.And according to Patricia McIlreavy, President & CEO of the CDP, it is only the first step.

Some areas to consider when wanting to fund long-term response:

  • Disaster reduction and crisis mitigation
  • Investing in sustainable development needs
  • Recovery, resilience, and durable solutions

In this interview with Circle, McIlreavy talks about “why it pays to play the long game” and stresses that donors need both a nimble and recovery mindset when responding to a crisis.

You can also watch this webinar discussing the CDP’s latest report on the state of disaster philanthropy. Although the data is more US-focused, the report also looks at how much funding is put towards immediate relief, long-term recovery, preparedness, and disaster risk reduction.

Meanwhile, in this webinar titled “Crisis, reaction and resilience”, hosted by Alliance Magazine, a panel featuring McIlreavy, the IKEA Foundation, Human Rights Funders Network, and a global strategy and development expert, tackled the following questions:

  • Philanthropy is often an early responder to crises. The first and urgent task is relief, but should philanthropy be doing more to build resilience against future shocks before and after crises?
  • When the world's attention moves on, what can philanthropy do to either make sure that the sufferers are getting the help they need, or to rebuild their lives and their societies?
  • Given the relationship between crises, is it more important for different types of funders to make common cause - or should they stick to their area of expertise?

Key takeaways from the discussion included:

1. Giving used to be ad-hoc and addressed short-term relief. Now we’ve learned that providing unrestricted multi-year grants is what is needed to ensure emergency funding is released faster and applied more effectively.
2. Addressing root causes, mitigating hazards, and preparing communities to face crises will be a “much better investment for humanity”.
3. It is crucial to focus on repair, and to listen, and “show up” for the communities going through crisis.
4. Invest in sustainable development needs, local infrastructure, and knowledge.

Regional examples

1. Alwaleed Philanthropies. Established by Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, AP is one of the largest foundations in the region. It has funded humanitarian relief and development initiatives that have reached over one billion people worldwide, working with a range of global partners, including the Gates Philanthropy Partners Covid-19 response fund. Read more

2. Faizal and Shabana Foundation. After raising $400m from the sale of his business, UAE-based industrial tycoon Faizal Kottikollon and his wife Shabana have dedicated their time to transforming underfunded public schools across India, and funding social development programmes, medical research, and university scholarships. The foundation has also provided emergency aid to those affected by flooding in Kerala, Chennai, Kashmir, and Haiti. Read more

3. Shefa Fund. Born out of a collaboration between the Juffali family and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Shefa Fund is the first pooled funding initiative in the Arab world. The Fund brings together Arab philanthropists to tackle health issues impacting the region. They also supported reconstruction efforts and the provision of food, blankets, and clothing in Yemen. Read more

4. Education Above All. The brainchild of the First Lady of Qatar, EAA helps provide education to children all over the world. Most recently, they helped launched a sheter and education project in Northern Syria in collaboration with Qatar Red Crescent and Zaha Hadid Architects. Read more

Islamic philanthropy

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) calculates Zakat given by Muslims globally to be worth over USD 1 trillion per annum. This is triple the global annual humanitarian and development aid budgets, and a financing source that cannot be ignored.

Regional philanthropy is heavily embedded in the Islamic religion, and this includes regular giving, Sadaqah (voluntary almsgiving), and Zakat (obligatory charity or almsgiving). In this article, Tariq Cheema, a surgeon-turned-philanthropist, founder of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, and convener of the Global Donors Forum, talks about how Zakat is providing desperately-needed financing for humanitarian response.

International organisations that accept Zakat for humanitarian programming include:

  • UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund. Backed by fifteen fatwas from leading Islamic institutions and scholars, including the Muslim World League, OIC’s International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) and Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy, the fund was established in 2019 and is authorised to collect Zakat globally. All Zakat and Sadaqah funds raised are 100% non-deductible (no overheads) and are channelled directly towards refugees and asylum seekers as cash assistance, livelihood support, and emergency relief. So far, the Fund has assisted over 5.5 million people. UNHCR also has a dedicated Islamic philanthropy team which is responsible for managing and monitoring the compliance of the fund. Read more
  • UNRWA Zakat Programme. The UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) launched its Zakat programme in 2018 and it focusses on providing food and cash assistance to the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Similar to UNHCR's fund, 100% of the Zakat funds donated go towards programmes, with no overhead costs. Read more
  • UNICEF Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children. Also launched in 2019, the fund is a joint initiative between UNICEF and the Islamic Development Bank, and the first Islamic philanthropy fund dedicated to children. Zakat, Sadaqah, and Waqf endowments collected through this fund go towards supporting children in all 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation, is one of the leading investors in this fund, having committed $10m over three years to support education programmes for refugee children in the MENA region. Regarding overheads, UNICEF allocates up to one eighth (12.5 percent) for administrative and support costs. Read more
  • Save the Children Zakat Fund. Established in 2022, the Save the Children Zakat Fund is 100 percent Shariah-compliant, and it is supported with a fatwa from Islamic scholar and finance advisor Shaykh Haytham Tamim. The funds collected are used within one lunar year from receiving the Zakat to support the organisation’s projects in Muslim countries. Save the Children also collects 12.5 percent from donations to this fund to support its administrative and staffing costs. The fund currently focuses on programmes in Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Read more

Dos and Don’ts for crisis philanthropy

When crises happen around the world, many generous people and organisations rush to support affected communities. Although good intentions are there, some can do more harm than good. Here are a few important things to think about:

1. Do: Look at and research reputable local organisations and actors, and consider channelling your philanthropy towards those who come from and work directly with the affected communities.

2. Do: If you choose to give to international organisations, consider ones that are known to empower local organisations and work more equitably with local partners. For example, these five INGOs have signed the Pledge for Change and committed to making real progress on equitable giving and working: CARE International, Christian Aid, Plan International, Save the Children International, and Oxfam International.

3. Don’t: Unless giving locally, don’t send items such as jumpers, dates, blankets, and instead donate cash. While in-kind donations are well-intentioned and in some cases welcome, if someone sends a wool knitted sweater from Dubai to Haiti, not only is it inappropriate (it’s too hot), but it can also be a logistical nightmare and do more harm than good. These donations can often crowd access roads for urgent aid, take up space in local storage facilities meant for life-saving materials, harm local economies, and often are NOT what the people need.

4. Do: Always try to source aid materials locally (if the quality and quantity is available); it’s better for the environment (smaller carbon footprint) and supports the local economy – which is the first to get hit when disaster strikes and what is needed for the community to recover long-term.

5. Do: Re-consider that giant logo on relief items. While logos are sometimes needed for accountability, acknowledging donors, or informing people where to seek support, visibility needs to be done in a way that is sensitive to those receiving these items and their dignity.

6. Don’t: send expired food or medicine – regardless of what you think is acceptable enough for consumption. Better to err on the side of caution and remember the first and most important principle in healthcare as well as humanitarian action: Primum non nocere – first, do no harm.

Further reading

Responding to a Community in Crisis

Taken from its Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, this CDP document offers step-by-step guide to emergency response - whether it is an act of terror or a man-made disaster. It looks at every detail a foundation or fund might have to consider during each phase of a crisis, from communication with donors and board members during the first days, to engaging with the affected community and local media, advocating with government actors, and creating safe spaces for people to gather. It also reminds funders that though they play a very important part in the response, philanthropists are not first responders, and their role is to provide them with the support they need to do their job effectively and efficiently. Read more

Vetting NGOS for Disaster Recovery

Also from the CDP Playbook, this guide for vetting NGOs for grants in disaster recovery work outlines the actions a foundation or funder should take to evaluate prospective recipient organisations. There are many issues one must consider when funding an organisation to ensure that their money is put to good use, and therefore certain questions, such as history, success rates, and reporting commitments, must be answered before any funds are wired. Read more

Measuring the Impact of Disaster Philanthropy

In partnership with Candid, CDP produces an annual report and interactive funding map that illustrate the impact of global philanthropy and disaster funding. In this 2022 report, the authors dissect the discrepancies in funding impacted by the huge spike during the Covid-19 pandemic, which accounted for 96 percent of the money given by US-based funders since 2020. Read more

Foundations Respond to Crisis: Lasting Change? 

This report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a US-based organisation which develops comparative data on the nonprofit sector, explores how and whether the behaviour of foundations and individual funders will continue to change after the Covid-19 pandemic and what were the lessons learned from this experience. Equitable giving, flexible and long-term funding, and racially diverse boards are some of the key takeaways from this report which many recipient organisations would like to see become a reality. Read more

Philanthropy in times of crisis 

In this guide, Circle MENA explores five ways philanthropists can improve giving when disaster strikes and offers visual diagrams to outline best practices for the timing and management of grantmaking to achieve the most impact while considering the tumultuous conditions that can arise in a crisis, such as mass homelessness or power cuts. Read more