UAE fundraising platform offers legal way to give

Crowdfunding website YallaGive hopes to raise $1bn for charity by 2030

A UAE-based crowdfunding platform is hoping to transform the way people in the emirates raise and donate charitable funds.

YallaGive.com is the country’s first legal digital platform for individual fundraisers and charities within the UAE to post appeals and collect donations for approved causes. To date it has raised more than $1m and it is ambitiously targeting $1bn by 2030.

The site also provides a facility for Muslims to calculate and make zakat and qurbani payments to approved charities - and in the future, its creator, Abdulla Al Nuaimi says it will offer options to donate via cryptocurrency, reducing transaction costs and improving transparency.

"We are providing more information about where money goes and how it is spent."“I’ve been involved in local fundraising for a number of years and I noticed a real gap in the market for this type of platform,” said Syrian-born but now UAE-based Al Nuaimi, who is also the GCC director of the International Fundraising Consultancy (IFC), a voluntary sector consultancy group.

“At the moment when people put their money into a collection box, they don’t always know where it is going,” he said. “But we are providing more information about where money goes and how it is spent. It also helps charities reach new audiences.”

YallaGive was licensed in late 2018 and launched the following April. In February this year, it unveiled a new-look website with additional functionality, following a funding boost from an Innovation Impact Grant programme run by Dubai’s Expo 2020 body.

A smartphone application for the site is under development and is due to be launched in time for Ramadan, and the site, which currently hosts more than 135 fundraising appeals, is in talks with leading local charities and a couple of regional development banks about future collaborations.

YallaGive is also planning to offer the chance to make payments via a cryptocurrency called AtaaCoin. (‘Ataa’ means ‘gift’ in Arabic). The idea, Al Nuaimi said, is to reduce overheads associated with traditional bank charges – especially when currencies are converted – and make the process more transparent because all transactions will be registered on a blockchain.

The plan is to peg the coins to the Swiss Franc and register them on the Ethereum cryptocurrency platform. This means buyers – or receiving charities – have protection against wildly fluctuating values, and Al Nuaimi said eventually organisations would also be able to create their own coins on the site for people to buy and donate.

The UAE’s strict laws around charitable fundraising mean crowdfunding is illegal unless approved by the government. YallaGive is fully regulated by the UAE authorities. It hosts a range of appeals,  from individuals seeking sponsorship to climb mountains, run marathons, or grow moustaches in aid of local and international charities, such as Gulf for Good and the Al Jalila Foundation, to specific funding calls from local charities and international organisations with UAE branches, such as Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF).

As per UAE laws, YallaGive is only allowed to collect money for charities that are registered in the country, and all individual appeals, even those instigated by licensed charities, require a permit either from the Ministry of Community Development, or for those within the emirate of Dubai, the Islamic Affairs And Charitable Activities Department (IACAD).

Similarly, all individual fundraisers using YallaGive are subject to vetting by third-party legal teams, while only organisations with the required fatwas (approvals from Muslim scholars) eligible to receive Islamic alms donations via the site.

YallaGive takes a 4 per cent cut from all appeals to pay for the site’s administration. This fee is taken either from the donor up front when they make their gift, or it is extracted from the amount they give to the charity. In some fundraising appeals, Al Nuaimi said, the 4 per cent is waived and with Islamic giving, no overhead charges are applied at all.

Last year, the UAE office of MSF used YallaGive to raise more than AED68,000 (about $18,500) for its Ramadan campaign, supporting the organisation’s reconstructive surgery programme in Jordan. The programme supports the war wounded from Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Palestine with medical treatment, including new limbs.

Mario Stephan, executive director at MSF UAE, said his organisation was hoping to use it again this year during Ramadan and possibly later in the year for a second appeal. He said the 4 per cent fee compared favourably with other similar sites, which tended to charge NGOs subscriptions.

“Other similar sites hosted overseas that MSF had used in the past have now been banned in the UAE, so YallaGive is a good option for us,” Stephan said.

YallaGive is registered in the UAE as a commercial entity. It also has a registered office in the UK, from which Al Nuaimi plans to host international campaigns. All content is based on location and for legal reasons, for those logging onto the site from the UAE, only registered charities and appeals with permits will be visible.

“It is still early days, but we are bridging a large gap in the digital fundraising market and there's big potential for us,” he said.