By Katy Snyder
JVA Consulting Communications/Resource Development Associate
Articles on Arab philanthropy and nonprofits from as recent as 2006 focus on a handful of Arab nonprofit organizations being at the center of terror investigations and allegedly funneling money to extremist organizations. A New York Times article from October 2006 talked about how widespread fear among Muslims in the United States that charitable giving would lead to increased government scrutiny was leading to a decline in overall donations and an increase in anonymous donations.
What a difference a few years make.
A concerted effort on the part of Arab nonprofits around the world and a host of new nonprofits and partnerships in the U.S. and abroad have led to a new face for Arab philanthropy.
Arabs are certainly not new to philanthropy; the practice of zakat, or annual giving of at least 2.5 percent of one’s income to the needy, has long been a part of Arab life. Until recent years, zakat giving has often been in the form of informal cash donations to mosques and directly to the needy.
According to a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, nonprofit leaders in the Middle East are working to change this. The John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo, whose mission is “to strengthen philanthropic institutions and expand social justice philanthropy in the Arab region,” is currently conducting research on the topic of giving in the Middle East and will be holding a series of workshops that discuss giving and hard times.
This more strategic effort can also be seen in the recent announcement of a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Dubai Cares, a nonprofit formed by the Prime Minister of Dubai to alleviate systemic poverty through primary education in the Middle East.
The formation of the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) is also another good sign. Formed in response to the overwhelming need for Arab community service providers after 9/11, the NNAAC was formalized in 2004 as a network to explore further collaboration among Arab community service providers and create a lasting institution that enhances their local missions. The NNAAC also published some of the only research of its kind on Arab-American giving, research that found a strong pattern of giving among Arab-Americans but pointed to the same conclusions that the New York Times article came to, saying that charitable giving is still somewhat unstructured in this community.
The report also pointed to the need for training targeted specifically at Arab-American nonprofits that would help these organizations target philanthropists in a strategic way.