Acts of Charity, How LaunchGood Campaigns Happen and Why it All Matters

Nabra Hassanen. Photo from Twitter
Nabra Hassanen. Photo from Twitter

This is Day 26 of the 2017 #30Days30Writers Ramadan series – June 21, 2017

By Chris Blauvelt

وَاللَّهُ فِي عَوْنِ الْعَبْدِ مَا كَانَ الْعَبْدُ فِي عَوْنِ أَخِيهِ

“…God is in aid of the servant, so long as the servant is in aid of his brother (or sister)…”
~Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم

Setting the Scene

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Father’s Day. My third yet most uneventful thus far, given its Ramadan. But I’m enjoying a peaceful day nonetheless — my wife let me sleep in (what better gift in Ramadan?), caught up on Quran, even spent a little time setting up my daughter’s hot pink kiddie pool from Target.

Suddenly something catches my eye on Facebook: My friend Khadija Lardas posted about a Northern Virginia teen girl missing after leaving the ADAMS Center Mosque late at night. It’s alarming, but early; mostly I’m thinking about how that girl’s father must feel today.

As I head to Asr prayers, I get a WhatsApp notification: A body has been found, dead, presumably the young girl’s. Her name is Nabra. The few photos shared show a bright smile under Snapchat filters. My heart drops – for her, and for what I know is coming.

After I pray, the messages come in: iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger. Should there be a LaunchGood campaign? How can we help? Where can I donate? This is our moment, a chance to turn the raw emotions people are feeling into something productive that can hopefully make an impact (see closing thoughts as to why this is personally important to me).

Minute by Minute

As LaunchGood’s most visible founder, I’m often the first person contacted when something big is potentially happening. For those unfamiliar, LaunchGood is a crowdfunding platform with a mission to empower the Muslim community. The majority of our campaigns are small and local, but we’ve become well-known for a few big, national and international campaigns including Repair Jewish Cemeteries and Muslims Unite for Portland Heroes. With the help of thousands of donors over the past few years, we’ve turned mass philanthropy into an art form.

With the horrible tragic murder of Nabra Hassanen, here is how we helped launch the crowdfunding campaign to support her family:

      1. Sunday, 6:05 p.m. – Find the Leader: As messages begin asking for a LaunchGood, my mind turns to the first priority: Find the leader. There needs to be one person who will manage this all, handle all the drama, have sincere intentions and embrace the challenge.
      2. 6:15 p.m. – Get Authentic Community Buy-In: I reach out to Khadija, one of the first to contact me, to see if she would be willing to lead the campaign. She’s considering it and talking to local community leaders for advice. It’s crucial to have authentic community buy-in, otherwise the campaign will feel disingenuous.
      3. 6:28 p.m.  – Create a Power Team: As a wife of one of the ADAMS Mosque shaykhs tells Khadija to move forward, we begin identifying other community leaders to bring on as team members. Teams double fundraising potential and add more credibility and network effect. This one will turn out stellar, including Haris Tarin (former MPAC director and community member), Altaf Husain (ISNA vice president) and Zaki Barzinji (community member and part of former President Obama’s White House team).
Screenshot of WhatsApp message provided by Chris Blauvelt
Screenshot of WhatsApp message provided by Chris Blauvelt
        1. 6:43 p.m. – Secure Rapid Communication Channel: A WhatsApp group is created with all involved. Quick communication is essential to getting this off the ground. Every minute counts, and WhatsApp has proven to be an effective way to facilitate these flash campaigns.
        2. 7:03 p.m. – Move Quick and Keep It Simple: Khadija has started a draft of the campaign. Everyone jumps in – I give access to others to edit, Bilal from LaunchGood works on the cover photo, everyone else provides feedback. The key is to move quick and keep it simple – more details can always be added later.
        3. 7:27 p.m. – Always Review Before Going Live: The draft is complete, but there’s confusion about Nabra’s last name. We must go in and make changes to confirm the name. Lesson: always review the details before going live!
        4. 7:35 p.m. – Donate, Share and Invite: The campaign is live – LaunchGood.com/Nabra! 90 minutes has passed – it seems fast, but felt like a lifetime, because every minute counts. I clarify the two most important steps: (1) donate ourselves (2) share and ask others to donate. It’s a MUST to donate before asking others to do, it’s even a Quranic principle is to avoid not walking the talk (Surat Saff).
        5. 8:00 p.m. – Campaign has been live for almost 30 minutes and over $3,000 was raised. It’s going viral, I’m proud of Khadija and everyone involved for getting this up so quickly – every minute we saved is another $100 to the family. It’s time to take a deep breath and get ready for iftar.
        6. 8:09 p.m. – Another Tragedy: I’m notified by my friend Rafiq, founder of IlmFeed.com, there’s been an attack in the UK, this time a man running down Muslims coming out from tarawih with his van in Finsbury Park. Heartbroken again, exhausted, feeling too guilty to tell my team. But this is what we signed up for when we made LaunchGood. People find solace in the outlet we provide, that we’re not just victims, but can be agents of change, agents of good in the world, that good will prevail.
        7. 8:17 p.m.- Let’s Do it Again: I inform my team of the attack, let them know it’s time to get going again. If nothing else, these last few nights of Ramadan are meant to push us to the limits. May Allah accept our deeds.
Image source: LaunchGood
Image source: LaunchGood

“Why So Much?”

Once these campaigns cross into the six-digits we consistently hear, “Why so much? How are the funds going to be used? Why not share the funds with other worthy causes?”

These are all fair questions. For example, Nabra’s campaign started with a goal of $10,000 and now is at $300,000+. Perhaps the funeral will cost a few thousand, but then what?

First, it’s important to understand why people donate: It’s for themselves. They want to show solidarity with a cause, and crowdfunding has become the expected way to do so today. Even the Quran echoes this sentiment: In Surat Al-Baqarah Allah says, “and whatever you spend of good is in reality only for yourself…” [2:272]. So, these campaigns are usually left open to let people feel involved.

Secondly, it’s important to understand Islamic perspective on charity: “Charity does not decrease wealth,” as our beloved Prophet taught us. Sometimes people are afraid all the extra funds are a waste, that there are other needy people or causes that could benefit. That’s true, and we should raise funds and donate to them too! But as a principle of belief, the more charity we give as a community, the more we will be blessed with to share with others, inshallah.

There’s no need to be scared we’re putting all our eggs in one basket; charity is not a zero-sum game (for the believer).

Finally, only God knows the circumstances of the victims and their families. For Nabra’s parents maybe they’ll need to take time off work to recover, or move to a new place and start fresh, or begin an endowment in her name – or all three. The more funds they have, the more options they have and time to figure it out.

Why this Matters

All this crowdfunding can seem exhausting. Why has this become our go-to every time something horrible happens? Do we need a campaign every time there’s a tragedy or major news event?

The obvious answer is no. Honestly, I personally get exhausted myself — it takes a lot of work to get them up, we must drop everything we’re doing, and then there’s an endless line of questions after the campaign takes off.

But, I believe this is what I was made for. Ever since I became Muslim 16 years ago, I’ve been passionate about activating the Muslim community. From starting Jumu’ah in our high school, to leading the MSA at University of Michigan, to helping launch Fawakih and the Muslim Chaplain at UM, I love kickstarting initiatives the uplift us and elevates our faith.

With LaunchGood, I get to do that on steroids: Every day is an opportunity to help new people, whether it’s a young person seeking out funds to study at Qalam to major flash campaigns like Nabra’s that brings a measure of healing to a community. If it’s important to someone else, it’s important to me and our LaunchGood team.

As the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم famously said, “God is in aid of the servant, so long as the servant is in aid of his brother (or sister).” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 36 of Imam Nawawi’s 40 Hadith)

Get Involved

I invite you to join us in supporting Nabra’s family and the victims of the Finsbury Park attack here:

LaunchGood.com/Nabra
LaunchGood.com/FinsburyPark

Chris Blauvelt is the executive director of LaunchGood, the first Muslim crowdfunding site.

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