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.

20 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.

  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 🙂

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