Early indicators suggest that the scale of charity and philanthropic donations may have decreased in 2024 compared to last year. However, a clearer picture will likely emerge shortly after Ramadan when accounts are consolidated. For organisations reporting an increase in collections, the spike would likely have been even greater had the overall trend been more robust.

Leading philanthropic organisations like the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) and the Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT), among others, have been able to mobilise more funds even as the overall upward trend of giving in the country appears to be moderating.

Their credibility, based on transparency in financial affairs, the loyalty of an expanding donor base, the use of digital platforms for fund transfers, intelligent marketing strategies, and the globally recognised quality of service, has played a significant role in their continued success.

Despite receiving donations 20 per cent to 25pc higher than last year during the first half of the holy month, recipients expressed discomfort, noting that the increase was not proportional to the rising cost of providing their specialised services.

Charity donations have become gradually moderate as people struggle to maintain their standard of living in the face of mounting economic challenges

Many believe that competing global causes, particularly the plight of people in war-torn Gaza, have diverted a significant amount of funds that would typically arrive in Pakistan for charitable purposes and supporting local causes.

Some argue that the outcome of the February elections, perceived by the majority of overseas Pakistanis as flawed, has demoralised them to a level where their responsiveness to calls for help has been compromised. Others attribute the moderate inflow of funds to the relatively tougher economic situation for immigrants in the West, particularly for Muslims from South Asia.

All those approached for input on the subject agree that the decline in the scale of local donations is partially rooted in the country’s economic conditions. Not only has real income fallen over the past year, but in many cases, both the quantity and value of private assets have also decreased. This has unnerved commoners, who fear sliding down the social scale and becoming charity recipients instead of givers.

Dr Muhammad Amjad Saqib, former bureaucrat turned philanthropist and Chairman of the Akhuwat Foundation, noted a gradual moderation in the trajectory of donation collections this year. Delving into various contributing factors, he believed that the growing economic strain experienced by families across Pakistan was the primary culprit. He aptly pointed out, “In the face of mounting challenges, even middle-class households are grappling to uphold their accustomed standard of living. It’s unrealistic to expect the same level of generosity in donations during these difficult times.”

He dismissed the notion that declining donations, especially from expatriates, were linked to political disillusionment or fund diversions to Gaza. “I firmly believe that Pakistanis prioritise matters of faith and acts of kindness over politics,” he remarked. He did not see significant amounts of charitable funds diverting to Gaza either.

Mr Saqib further highlighted the immense difficulties in delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, even for multilateral agencies. “Despite widespread sympathy and willingness to those affected by conflict, the logistic hurdles are known, making effective assistance nearly unattainable.”

Senior officials from SIUT and LRBT confirmed that donation collections in their respective organisations have met expectations, indicating increased trust among Pakistanis. They highlighted a notable increase in overall collection, with a growing share of digitally transferred funds, compared to the same period last year.

Tahir Abbasi, General Manager of LRBT, did not mince words when sharing his organisation’s financial challenges. He emphasised that the issue isn’t merely the growth in donations compared to last year, but rather the insufficiency of funds to address the escalating costs — particularly in capital expenditure — primarily attributed to the devaluation of the currency.

“Our focus is on ensuring that our growth trajectory matches the steep rise in equipment costs,” he explained. “The persistent challenge lies in keeping up with these escalating expenses due to devaluation of the rupee.”

Karimullah Adeni, founder of Amanatdar, expressed concern over a notable decrease in donation flows this year. In addition to factors previously discussed, he mentioned a sustained social media campaign targeting charities, alleging resource wastage and fostering dependency. Mr Adeni dismissed such accusations as unfounded and absurd, labelling them a form of victim blaming.

“It’s a misguided attempt to shift responsibility from the systemic issues causing poverty onto the impoverished themselves,” he argued passionately. “Those who propagate such heartless rhetoric perhaps seek to rationalise their own indifference towards the sufferings of others,” he asserted.

Isfandyar Inayat, General Manager of The Citizen Foundation, expressed optimism regarding improved donation collection outcomes in the second half of the holy month.

However, several other prominent charities, including the Edhi Foundation, Saylani Welfare Trust, Chhipa Welfare Association, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, and Jafriya Disaster Management Cell Welfare Organisation, preferred to withhold premature assessment of the giving situation. Sources close to their management indicated moderation in funds collection at present.

A similar trend was observed within the welfare arms of political organisations. The Alkhidmat Foundation of Jamaat-i-Islami remained cautious in divulging specifics regarding donation collection. “At present, our priority lies in mobilising resources,” an insider revealed when approached for comment. Despite attempts to contact senior management, communication remained elusive.

Efforts to obtain a response from the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy regarding the scale of collection during the 2024 Ramadan period were unsuccessful as well, as their reply did not arrive until after this report was filed.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 1st, 2024

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