How to fundraise in Dubai (legally)

Dubai’s fundraising law is meant to regulate giving in the Emirate. While the process is long, it is simple enough and will mean that you can fundraise legally (image source: http://www.thirdforcenews.org)

After a number of incidents, I thought it was about time that someone with experience of fundraising in Dubai wrote on how it should be done (I’ve been fundraising here for about four years, and applying for approvals every couple of months with different charities). While there are legal papers on the issue, most notably from DLA Piper, I’ve been through the process and know its ups and downs, which can be different from what is written in the statute books.

So, here goes.

  • Fundraising is regulated. 

Firstly, let’s start with the obvious. Fundraising is regulated in Dubai, and to fundraise you must do two things. Find a charity that is allowed to collect donations. Then you must submit a request to the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities (IACAD). Once this is approved you can fundraise.

If you don’t follow the above, you can face either a year in prison or a fine of up to 500,000AED. And when I mean you, I mean YOU! Even when fundraising is undertaken by a company, an individual must bear responsibility for the application.

  • You have to donate to a Dubai-based charity that is permitted to fundraise.

The number of charities who are licensed to fundraise is short, it used to be seven in total. These include the Dubai Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, Dubai Autism Centre, Beit Al Kheir, the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Awqaf & Minors Affairs Foundation, and The Relief Committee.

Other charities have been added to the list since then, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the Al Jalila Foundation, and Friends of Cancer Patients. For a comprehensive list, do contact the Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s Syed Atif on Syed.Atif@Dubaichamber.com. The Dubai Chamber is particularly active in terms of promoting engagement with charities in the country, and they’ll be able to give you on who and which charity aligns with your cause.

Once you’ve found your charity, you’ll have to talk to them about what you’re doing and why, in order to get their buy-in and support. This may take time, especially when dealing with one or two of the charities on the list of seven above.

Any application through the charities above to IACAD will take up to one month. On the form you’ll need to state what you are doing, why, how much is being raised and how you are raising it. The form is simple enough, and I’ve include it below. You cannot funraised until you have permission from IACAD, who will also follow up after the fundraising, to ensure that the charity has received the money.

There’s another option, which is to support a charity based in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC). These include Save the Children, SOS Children’s VIllages and UNICEF. In this case, IHC will act as the charity and then route all funds to the intended recipient. This process will take longer than the month mentioned above, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

  • Online fundraising is not exempt from the legislation (and penalties).

Many people I know in Dubai used to fundraise through online sites such as http://www.justgiving.com when undertaking a charity drive. This isn’t strictly legal, as has been shown by a recent criminal case. If you want to fundraise online, then either do it through a registered charity as per the above, or don’t do it in Dubai (ie do it when you’re out of the country and not breaking the law).

To make it as easy as possible, I’m attaching an IACAD form which you can fill in either in Arabic or English. The form is here, and includes contact details at IACAD – Islamic_Affairs_Request_Eng_Arb.

I’ll end on an important note – this only covers fundraising in Dubai. If you want to fundraise in any other Emirate, there are separate procedures you have to follow, or you’ll have to partner with the Emirates Red Crescent, or the Al Jalila Foundation. These are the only two organizations which have the pre-approval to fundraise across the United Arab Emirates.

If you need more advice on fundraising, please do drop me a comment and I’ll help further. While the above isn’t easy, I don’t want people to think that they should stop fundraising. The procedure does take time, but it doable, so keep on fundraising and supporting good causes.

51 thoughts on “How to fundraise in Dubai (legally)

  1. Excellent post Alex. I am planning to run for charity in November and was about to post on FB to garner some sponsors. I’l be running in aid of The Royal Free Hospital in London. Would this leave me open to prosecution?

  2. Hi Alex!! The article was need of the hour…. Thanks for penning it. Could you kindly share the link/ details for registering organization at Abu Dhabi. Am keen to do so and am sure your inputs would be of great value and help.

    Regards
    Sweety Lulla

    • Thanks for the message Sweety and sorry for the late reply. For Abu Dhabi you’ll need to talk to the Ministry of Social Affairs/Community Development. I’ll see if I can get you a contact.

  3. Thank for the post Alex, I didn’t realise that different permissions were required by different countries for charity fundraising and it was a serious offence. I’m planning a round world trip of severa months and want to travel through the middle east/gulf countries if possible. I thought I might be able to help some charities along the way, maybe ecotourism or children in need, but now I’m not so sure. I also need some serious advice on using social media and blogging, posting photos on my travel blog while I’m there.

      • Alex, thank you kindly for this post. It is extremely helpful.

        I too, am interested in holding a fundraiser in Dubai for a non-profit organization located in the United States.

        Question: When reaching out to one of the eligible Dubai charity agencies, is there any thing in particular I should express, when requesting partnership?

        Is there a resource that outlines the charities’ interests or their likelihood of their accepting one fundraiser over another?

        What makes for a thorough and desirable application?

        Thank you for any advice you can offer.
        Cheers,
        Francesca

  4. Hi Alex, I have a question regarding fundraising for non charitable events. If I wanted to raise money for my birthday or a wedding from friends and family thru a website, does that still require permission?

    • Hi Anwar, thanks for the message. Fundraising is classed as supporting charities. However, you may be best not taking the risk and setting up any fundraising service online as there’s always a risk. Sorry I can’t be more definitive on this, as there’s not much in terms of legal advice on this issue.

  5. I want to register my non-profitable firm in Dubai. I have registered it in Pakistan. It’s for the cause of promoting education in terrorism affected school all over the world. What should I do?

    • What are you looking to raise Laraib? Are you looking to raise money direction, non-financial donations or volunteering? It’d be good to know what you’re looking to do so I can guide you. All the best, Alex

  6. Hi Alex, I would like further advice regarding a fundraising initiative that I would love to embark on. When you have the chance would your respond to me via email and I’ll let you know what I have in mind. I hope you’ll be able to give me some insights. Thanks, Arianie

  7. HI Alex

    the article was very helpful, thanks for taking the time out to write this,

    My question is regarding raising money in dubai but not for a charitable organisation; in essence my best friend is trying to raise money so he can go for medical treatment in mexico to cure a disease. to support this I am looking to do a marathon or fun run and ask for sponsors to undertake from friends and colleagues out here in Dubai and back home in London – do you know if i would need to register for such an event or whether this would also fall under any restrictions?

    thanks again,

    Sakeb

    • Thanks for the question Sakeb. Any fundraising has to be done through charities and a request has to be made through them. You can donate money directly, but encouraging others to do so in the UAE (including online) would be considered illegal. Take care.

  8. Great post Alex,

    I wanted to raise money in a similar fashion as above for an event in July. Possibly using Justgiving or something similar as a platform. Do you think if I asked a friend or family member to set this up who lives outside of the UAE and if I then marketed here and pushed it on social media, would this work?

    • Thanks for the comment Rudy. As we’ve seen last summer, the law also includes marketing fundraising for charities not based in the UAE. You’ll get into serious trouble for doing that, even online.

  9. Hi does this apply to items too we have been doing care boxes for Ramadan for labourers and not collecting cash

  10. HI Alex,

    Great article & thanks for all your sound advice. Would you know what the situation would be in Abu Dhabi if we were to run a silent auction at a function for our sporting team to raise funds? Does this fall under the same banner?

    Thanks 🙂

  11. Hi Alex,

    Great article.Maybe you could point us to the right direction.

    We have a lady friend who is in jail in RAK due to a bounced cheque. We are planning to raise funds for her legal funds and for her medical treatments (she needs to undergo several tests outside the jail) by sending letters to friends, groups and communities.

    Is there a specific procedure for this and if this is covered by the law? Can you please point us to the right charitable organization that might be able to help her and us to raise the funds?

    Thank you and we are looking forward to hearing back from you.

    • Thanks for the message Oliver (and sorry for my delay). The best organization may be Beit Al Khair Society, as they help with people who are jailed. Their Dubai number is +971 4 267 5555. I suggest you ask an Arabic speaker to call them.

  12. Hello Alex,

    Thank you for the very useful read. I am planning a charity fundraiser and need some advice on a few queries I may have. I would kindly request you to send me your email contact so I can detail out the same.

    Thanks again.

  13. Hi Alex. Do I need to contact the charity first before going to ICAD? The exact timeline of rules is so confusing. I want to be able to raise money online.

  14. Hi Alex,
    Do you have any insight on employee and corporate giving through their company’s giving community? If there is not a campaign, but the employee just initiates a donation to an organization and the company matches the donation, what is needed to process those funds from the US to the organization in Dubai?

    • Hi Karen can you further explain what you have in mind? It’s ok to match employee donations as long as you’re not soliciting the original donations. What do you mean on processing funds from the US to Dubai?

  15. Thanks Alex for the post.
    As my company CSR project, we are tied up with a well known US charity organisation & we would like to build a school through them in Ghana by raising money with our clients, friends & family.
    Therefore, we checked with IACAD & they have asked us to tied up with any of their charity partners. However, almost every charity required us to donate money & build the school with them. Do you have any suggestions , how to go about it

    Cheers,
    Gihan

    • As per the law, you’ll have to partner with a local charity. Some will ask for a higher percentage than others. My suggestion is to go through the list of IACAD approved partners and ask them what they’d charge. I know for example that IHC would charge 10%. Good luck, you’ll get there. All the best, Alex

  16. Hi Alex, I am part of an international not-for-profit foundation (501 US and a registered charity in the UK, with offices in Europe and US), focusing on outstanding social organisations helping children from0-25 years old and we would like to open a branch in Dubai. Would you know what is the process? Will the same rules apply ? In advance, many thanks for your reply.All the best, Farah

  17. Hi Alex , I am a student who wants to fundraise for operation smile at our school in Abu dhabi . I s that allowed ? If its not how do I get the approval to do the same . Please let me know its quite urgent . Thanking you in advance , faima.

  18. Hi Alex.
    Thank you for writing an article that explicitly explains Charity work within the UAE.

    Please could you clarify for me if I were to fundraise online using social media to spread awareness during my 2 month holiday where I will be in my home country, outside of the UAE, and for a charity in my home town. Is this considered illegal as I will not be in Dubai or doing anything for Dubai?
    Or could you point me in the direction of where I would be able to find out the above information.

    Thank you for your time.
    Regards,
    Jordyn

    • Hello Jordyn, you should be ok on this as long as you’re not in the UAE and not specifically targeting UAE residents, but our contacts in general. Just finish fundraising before you get back.

  19. Hi! You missed the Emirates Animal Welfare Society which is the only registered animal welfare charity organisation and is allowed to raise funds. Of course it is in regards to animals but many times people ask how to donate for animal projects. Emirates animal welfare society is the answer 🙂

  20. Hi Alex, planning to run Boston Marathon in April 2018 and using the charity route to get entry for the same. These would be charities based in US ( mainly Boston) and are the only ones approved by Boston Athletic Association. How to proceed considering that I stay in Dubai and intended to make use of JustGiving.com

    • Thanks for the message Ravi. When fundraising you’ll need to make clear in your text that this is for a US charity and that fundraising is taking place outside of Dubai. It’s probably not a good idea to promote this via social media whilst you’re in Dubai. These are some thoughts. And it may be best to talk to a lawyer on your question.

  21. Hi Alex,

    Really great article and cuts through a lot of the confusion in the UAE regulations.

    Just wanted to ask a couple things if you don’t mind?

    – above you outline the process for IACAD in Dubai but note other Emirates have different rules. Is the emirate you process the request in dependent on where the charity is located? For instance, if I decide to run a marathon for a Dubai registered charity however I live in Abu Dhabi and raise funds through Abu Dhabi friends then do I need to apply via Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

    – does the charity submit the application to IACAD? And if so, how happy are they to submit these on an individual’s behalf. For instance say I want to raise only $100 for Dubai registered charity – would they be difficult because it is a low amount or are they willing to help with every donation?

    Thank you once again,
    Sean

    • Hello Sean, I’m glad I could help. For your questions, the relevant authority should be that of the Emirate where the charity is based. This also means in effect that the fundraising needs to take place in the same Emirate. The charity will submit the application (you will need to fill it out). If the amount is small, say 500 dollars and less, you’re probably best just donating directly. I hope this helps.

      • Hi Alex,

        I really appreciate the reply.

        Just so I am clear, the options in Dubai are:
        1) donate directly myself
        2) use a Dubai registered charity to submit the IACAD form and fundraise on their behalf.
        3) use IHC to submit the IACAD form and fundraise for another charity – how does this option work?

        Thank you again for your time.

      • The first two yes. For an IHC based charity you still need to apply to the charity and they’ll apply via IHC who will then apply via IACAD.

  22. Dear Alex,
    This is Amad from Saudi Arabia. We would like to run a charity event in Dubai for disaster relief of Rohingya population (Burma) in Dubai. We are not a charity association registered in Dubai and I have scanned through your post which really provided a lot of insights. My question in particular would be that if we collaborate with local charities, how will we use the donations against some programs that we have devised….these programs include donation for students,,,,,,the emergency meal and the medical aid. Since they will collect funds, how the funds will be routed to us and who will do the ground assistance. How trustworthy and fairly we ensure to have this in place. I would appreciate if you can share your contact details with me and i will call you to discuss more!

    Regards
    Amad Aslam

    • Hello Amad. There are three basic steps. First is to find a charity that will agree to the fundraiser and the cause. They will submit he paperwork for you. They must also collect all of the proceeds. Once the fundraiser is over, they will then send a percentage of the money to you (some charities take 20%, some up to 50%). The local charity isn’t obliged to do anything else for you, and it may take a couple of weeks (or longer) to wire the money. I hope this helps.

  23. Hi Alex, great post! Would you happen to know how an organization could become legally recognized to fundraise at all times such as the seven above?

    Thanks

    • Thanks for the message Maliha. There’s no practical way to set up a charity in the UAE. You can set up a social club (under the Community Development Authority) but you won’t be able to fundraise.

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