American Muslims & Covid19?Where do we start? It took nearly a month to get back to any semblance of a normal schedule for me, with the kids at home, without being able to leave the house and figuring out different times to work and write when I could find quiet. Here we are days away from Ramadan, with us all reciting the Prophets prayer to reach the month with an immediacy that most of us have never experienced before.

“O Allah make the months of Rajab and Sha’ban blessed for us and let us reach the month of Ramadan,” Ameen.

At the Center for Global Muslim Life, we are building a unique set of digital programming for the month with two live shows and the Global Muslim Eid Virtual Film Festival at the end of the month.

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The World Ahead? When will This End? And the Imperial Presidency Looming Over the United States

I think that a lot of people are still very much in denial about what lies ahead of us with both the long battle against this virus and the level of impact this will have on the global economy. This at one level could be the greatest economic stagnation in the history of the globalized world, it could also bring an end globalization, at least for a time. The impact could be that great. Anyone expecting to go back to what was may be dreaming of some future in 2022 or beyond.

In the United States, we also see in this vast country how different our experiences are now from city to city and state to state, since the federal government, not surprisingly, has failed almost completely in their response. The states on the West coast, who closed down earliest, including California where I live are doing the best. While the densely populated Eastern cities like New York have become the epicenter of the global pandemic. This week California Governor Gavin Newsome teased that he would roll out a plan to open California, that plan rightly places public health and science at the center of any decisions and it makes it look like we will be inside for a long time.

There is a simple data point that the mainstream media is not using here that shows how different these realities are. The media always shows total numbers of cases and numbers of deaths, and then maybe they show percentages of deaths. I don’t understand why they are not showing per capita infection numbers or the percentage of the population infected by states and cities. This would give a much clearer picture of how states are handling the crisis and where the biggest outbreaks are. This could also be used for racial and economic demographics so we can see the specific communities most impacted in these times. As an example of this using per capita infection data, 1 out of every 84 people in New York state have been infected with this disease, in the state of California that number is 1 out of every 1535 people. That means the infection rate is 18 times greater in New York than in California. May God protect us all, Ameen.

The best things I have read to give me an idea of what’s ahead are Parag Khanna’s article “The coronavirus butterfly effect: Six predictions for a new world order,” Arundhati Roy’s article, “The Pandemic is a Portal,” about the coronavirus in India, and David Harvey’s article, “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Age of COVID-19.” Harvey literally wrote the book on the economic disaster we live in, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, so he sees clearly how radical the policies will need to be too right this economic sinking Titanic.

How Many Mosques Could Close Down in the Midst of This Crisis?

The economic depth of this crisis is still unknown, but in the United States, we are nearing depression level unemployment numbers. Any nonprofit organization without a surplus or consistent revenue streams will have a hard time raising their budgets for the rest of 2020 and into 2021. For Mosques anywhere in the world who do not own their facilities, this could lead to rapid closures for congregations that serve communities who oftentimes have the greatest needs. In the US the American Muslim Community Foundation has stepped up to develop a fund for Muslim nonprofits who have had fundraisers canceled because of COVID-19.

Even for Mosques who do own their buildings, many Muslim nonprofits collect up to 80% of their annual budgets during Ramadan. Many Mosques are month to month with their funding and they collect their monthly budgets at jummah (Friday) prayers. Most mosques have been closed for six weeks now with only online gatherings expected during Ramadan in most of the world. As a digital strategist who has run my own production studio for the last five years, Beyond Border Studios, and as a co-founder of MPower Change, I thought it was important to give some basic tips and ideas for our institutions to try and raise some of that money online.
Creative ideas for 2020 emergency Ramadan fundraising

Find a digital lead at your Mosque or reach out to digital agencies who are willing to work with you on fundraising in the month. It is going to be very difficult to teach yourselves online marketing in a week and almost every institution has the digital talent that could build a team to support you in this month.

1. The most important thing about engaging your congregation is understanding you are now competing with everyone whether it is large local mosques or national and international Mosques for people’s attention. It is time to get creative and produce relevant programs including nightly talks, nightly duaas, qiyam programs, meetups, and virtual iftars. Really sit down with your team and brainstorm creative ideas on how to have consistent engagement with your community this month. People will be looking for connection so offer them a diversity of programming.

2. Start setting up a LaunchGood fundraiser now, they are running a ton of webinars on effective fundraising during the Ramadan challenge. The majority of people cover the platform fee and LaunchGood is a Muslim community institution that has raised more than $100 million dollars for Muslim causes around the world. Crowdfunding is also an effective way to show your fundraising goals during the month that helps emotionally encourage people to give. LaunchGood works and I’ve been blessed to raise over $600,000 on the platform for a diversity of campaigns.

3. If you don’t have a good fundraising portal on your website you can easily set up giving pages on ActBlue, the same platform democratic candidates use to fundraise. A lot of people will already have their info saved on the platform and it has Apple Pay built-in and other quick ways for people to give to your institution. The platform fee is a bit high at 3.95% but if it’s a more effective fundraising tool that converts then it’s worth it.

4. It is really important that you get your data in order for the month as much as you can. When you raise money in person you might only have a phone number or an email. You can use Spokeo or other similar services to look up the data you may be missing in yours lists whether they are phone numbers, addresses or emails. If you have a big enough mailing list, physical mailers with return fundraising envelopes attached are one of the most effective fundraising tools for the big Muslim nonprofits during Ramadan. Even if you send it out by the middle of the month this might be a strategy worth considering.

5. Depending on the size of your congregation you can make WhatsApp admin only announcement lists to connect people with the digital programming you will be offering in the month. As an individual, you can also make WhatsApp broadcast lists (many of the uncles in the Mosque know this feature well, lol). Don’t spam people or they will leave the group, use it only to send Mosque announcements.

6. Build out your social media channels especially on Facebook and Instagram. You can also make a Facebook group for better interaction because Facebook pages have very low interaction because the Facebook algorithm wants you to buy advertising. For fundraising purposes, it might be worth testing these different social media advertising platforms. Also worth testing a fundraiser with ActBlue on social media platforms.

7. You can try to grow an email list if you don’t have one in place but WhatsApp will have more consistent delivery. MailChimp and Constant Contact are easy platforms to use that you can set up quickly. In terms of delivery rate messaging will be the highest, followed by email, then social media.

8. When you are competing in the digital space finding designers is very important to make your announcements look beautiful. Ask around for local designers who all need work in these difficult times.

9. Remember that as much as our institutions may be hurting this month as I wrote above these are economic times like none of us have seen in our lives. Even if Ramadan was in person this year, giving may be cut in half anyways because many people don’t have as much to give. Be honest about the need of your institution but also try to set up service programs to serve those most in need especially elders, refugees, and undocumented members of the community who cannot access government services.

10. In my opinion, this is not a time to be fundraising for Mosque expansions or anything beyond necessary repairs. Fundraise to keep the masjid open and to expand zakat programs for the level of need our community is facing today. We really should see where this is going and even if we get our masjids back sometime soon the level of need will be like nothing we have ever experienced before. So you should redo your budgets. Rewrite strategic plans. There may be no going back to what was for years.

11. Think through the type of technology you will need to produce effective live-streaming programs. This includes – higher quality web cameras, lighting so people can see you, and external microphones. There are lots of great tutorials on YouTube to help you set this up.

12. What Livestream platforms should I use? First consider what it is you are trying to do, if you are creating something interactive and private then use Zoom. If you want to do something with a larger audience and no interaction then you should use Facebook Live. If you want to do both, this is a tough one if you want to connect to Facebook live consider something other than Zoom as the Facebook live connection seems to be broken. Some alternatives are OBS (open source and free) connected to Zoom, Bluejeans, and on the higher end Vimeo Premium, and Studio Switcher.

13. Also, note that Zoom chats are getting disrupted by White supremacists and people coming into the room displaying pornography or making racist statements. Make sure you understand all the security protocols necessary to make sure someone cannot take over your meeting. Here is a good overview, “How to keep zoom chats private and secure.”

14. Had a house fundraising party canceled? Consider asking the host to set up a  Zoom iftar fundraiser. This can also bring in people who are outside your area who may have not been able to attend otherwise.

15. If you have fundraising during Taraweeh prayers consider how you still feature some of those groups during your Livestream programs.

16. Unfortunately, it looks like the government small business loans, which in many cases were grants, have all been allocated in the United States. If you didn’t apply yet consider putting in an application anyways and inshallah more funding will be opened up.

17. Have more questions? You can reach out to me at
May this month be blessed for each of us, and may we taste the sweetness of this month in ways we never have before, ameen.

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The Center for Global Muslim Life is a research center and cultural incubator focused on the unique set of issues facing the world’s largest and most diverse religious community. We are also asking key questions about the role Muslims are playing in creating social impact, diverse narratives, and unique contributions to the fabric of our rapidly changing world.

By Dustin Craun

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