A recently reported case in Dubai whereby an individual was arrested and imprisoned for fundraising for charitable donations without having approval to do so will have set alarm bells ringing with people concerned that their charitable activities will have to stop.

Whilst the new fundraising law in Dubai appears to be here to stay, this does not mean that fundraising in the UAE is impossible. With the right approach, schools and educational institutions can maintain their fundraising activities, although a more careful approach will be needed than in the past.

Fundraising approval – not as daunting as it seems!

The Dubai Fundraising Law regulates fundraising in the Emirate of Dubai (Dubai Decree No. 9 of 2015) and with penalties including a fine and imprisonment, fundraising without obtaining the required prior approval is not recommended.

The Dubai Fundraising Law requires that prior approval must be sought from the Dubai Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD) before any fundraising activity is carried out in Dubai. Fundraising, the authorisation of fundraising or the announcement of fundraising are prohibited unless there is prior approval from IACAD. The law covers fundraising for both monetary donations and the donation of goods in kind.

This may seem out of reach for most schools and educational institutions in Dubai, however, writing from experience, the fundraising approval process is not as daunting as it might seem. Yes there are difficulties. The organiser of the event will be required to work with and collect the funds through a Dubai registered charity. However, this process can be navigated, approval can be received and your fundraising event can go ahead.

We recommend developing a relationship with the officials at IACAD and the collecting charity - so that they understand your event and what you are trying to raise money for. Be flexible in what you are trying to achieve and give yourself plenty of time to obtain the necessary approvals. 

Posting on social media – be careful!

There is a simple message which emerges from recent events - do not post fundraising requests on social media asking for donations if you do not have fundraising approval in place. Whether the offending individual is charged under the Dubai Fundraising Law or the UAE Cyber Crimes Law (which prohibits any person from creating or running an electronic site to raise donations without obtaining a license from the competent authority), the penalties are similar: fines and possible imprisonment. For most of us, this is simply not worth the risk.

Possible ways of charitable giving and receiving!

There are other ways that you can maintain your charitable giving and receiving and fundraising activities. The Dubai Fundraising Law regulates the activity of fundraising; under this law there is no prohibition on the gifting or receiving of private donations. Sponsorship agreements, private charitable donations and corporate donations are not prohibited under the fundraising laws. However, be aware that even private fundraising activities are still likely to require approval under the Dubai Fundraising Law. If there is any fundraising activity, such as asking people to make donations or arranging the collection of donations or holding fundraising events, such activities would need IACAD approval.

Similarly, working with a charity that is registered and has fundraising approval is a good way for corporate donations and fundraising activities to continue. In effect the collection of donations could come under the umbrella of an existing fundraising approval. For example, fundraising for Gulf For Good or Dubai Cares could be a way of arranging fundraising. Donations of goods to the Royati Society or the Red Crescent could be another way of fundraising for donations from your employees or students. For this, some due diligence should be carried out to make sure that the approvals are in place for the collections or campaigns before contributing. If satisfied that your partner organisation has the relevant approvals, fundraising can be carried out – and you can post away on social media to your heart’s content!

Dubai schools – should an exemption be sought?

There are few exemptions under the Dubai law and most individuals and organisations wanting to do any charitable fundraising activities in Dubai will come under the new law, including schools and institutions which in the past have taken advantage of the exemption under the Federal Law (Federal Law No. 2 of 2008 governing Public Welfare Associations).

It remains to be seen whether special exemptions under the Dubai Fundraising Law (permitted at the discretion of the Director General of IACAD) will be given for particular groups, such as schools in Dubai, or whether blanket approval can be obtained from IACAD that will cover an extended period of fundraising activities for particular approved causes.

Schools in other Emirates

The Federal Law governing Public Welfare Associations continues to apply in Emirates outside of Dubai. In summary, this Law states that only registered Public Welfare Associations, with a Licence to do so, may collect charitable donations. There is an exemption for schools and other youth and sports clubs – the law is expressly stated as not applying to these groups.

This has been practically applied so that schools fundraising for their own purposes did not need approval to do so. Arguably, this still applies in Abu Dhabi and other Emirates outside of Dubai. However this is a possible risky approach in the current climate. Fundraising is not permitted under the Federal Law, instead it is not expressly prohibited in the same way as under the Dubai Law - there is a subtle difference. There is a risk that the authorities in other Emirates may withdraw their tolerance for schools own fundraising activities.

Charitable giving – can continue!

Notwithstanding the new requirements that have been introduced in Dubai, it is possible to continue with charitable donations and philanthropic activities; however care should be taken before holding any public fundraising events and before conducting any publicity around such activities, whether it is on social media or other formats, without having the approvals in place. Provided a careful approach is adopted, schools and educational institutions can maintain their fundraising activities and charitable giving and receiving without falling foul of the new laws.