Posted on Nov 27, 2019
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
If you’re on social media the slightest, you may have heard of LaunchGood, a Muslim-driven crowdfunding site. Amidst the plethora of crowdfunding sites out there, what is LaunchGood exactly, and why is it an important resource for Muslims fundraising and seeking to do, well, good?
For many Muslims, giving is an essential expression of faith, connecting it directly to their relationship with Allah. In Islam, giving involves an implied contract between the worshipper and their creator.
Allah asks in Suratul Hadid:
Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan, which He will amply repay? (57:11)
Amany Killawi; image source: Youtube
Charity is a broad concept in Islam and can include a spectrum of pursuits to earn Allah’s pleasure and mercy. For example, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said that something as simple as a smile is charity. Consequently, Muslims consistently seek ways to engage in good deeds as well as support philanthropic endeavors that will promote social well-being and spiritual fulfillment.
Crowdfunding – funding projects through fundraising in small increments from a large number of people – has grown on the internet, especially through social media. Nonprofits, startups and individuals increasingly use micro-funding to acquire capital for their ventures through digital platforms including one special Muslim one.
Amany Killawi is the co-founder and COO of LaunchGood, a Muslim-centered site that affords charitable campaigns the opportunity to fundraise through crowdsourcing via an expanse of social networks. The innovative site provides access to virtuous noble undertakings as well as broadens the ability for Muslims and non-Muslims to learn about and support them in varied monetary capacities.
Haute Hijab interviewed Amany in 2017 about entrepreneurship and start up life. But this time we wanted to focus on LaunchGood itself and what it means to give the Muslim way. I spoke with Amany about the LaunchGood and how it is a pioneer in digital fundraising and shifting narratives about Muslims among themselves and the broader society.
What motivated you to start LaunchGood?
I studied social work. I wanted to give back. I felt that – wow, I am privileged to be here. How do I make a difference in the world? So, I naturally go into social work. I studied community organizing. I was really excited about making a difference on a community level.
As I began to do that, I was often fundraising for projects. In grassroots work, you always need funds. I started crowdfunding seven or eight years ago; it was really new at the time. [My first] crowdfunding campaign went great. It was for an inner-city Muslim youth program. I was amazed at the impact crowdfunding could have. When you put a lot of work into it and get friends and family excited, you see the results. You see who you know and didn’t know come together and support you.
That is when I met one of my co-founders, Chris [Blauvelt]. He was the only other person I knew who was doing crowdfunding. We came together and brought in a third co-founder, Omar [E. Hamid]. We started to [wonder], how can we take back the impact of crowdfunding to the Muslim community?
The LaunchGood team; image source: Facebook
There are over 1.8 billion Muslims [and] over 400 niche crowdfunding sites. Why don’t we have one for Muslim communities to tell our stories? [So], we started LaunchGood to inspire Muslims to launch their own creative ideas and nonprofits so that every campaign becomes a chapter, [which] becomes a global story of who we are as a community.
We were so sick and tired of telling people what we’re not since 9/11 that we just wanted to show people who we are. We are active, involved and doing good work.”
When you launched the platform, was there a struggle to get Muslims to use it?
It was definitely a struggle. People think, if you build it, they will come. We built it, and they didn’t. It was hard, but we kept pushing. After we had our first Ramadan, it started to become a tipping point, and we realized that [it] was a high season for us.
We had to keep pushing to be legitimate in Muslim communities. Unfortunately, people still think that if it is Muslim, it is inherently inferior. We want to change that; it can be Muslim and better.
How important is the storytelling aspect of LaunchGood?
There is so much beauty in our communities. There are so many amazing [stories]. We have 10,000 campaigns on the site right now. That’s 10,000 stories of Muslims doing amazing work.
Whether it’s a healthcare clinic in California; the first hijabi ballerina in Australia or a children’s book with Curious George and a Muslim character, those are all LaunchGood stories that we are excited to have happened because of the support of the community.
Have you ever received push back for a LaunchGood campaign?
As a community platform, you are always navigating. What’s controversial in the US isn’t in the UK. What’s controversial in the UK isn’t in Australia [and so on]. For example, the hijabi ballerina [campaign] is controversial in the UK, but for the American Muslim community, it’s awesome.
When situations arise, we try to consult as a team. We reach out to our advisers, family and friends and try to understand the best perspective. Ultimately, we wanted to build LaunchGood as a platform that is neutral. We can have campaigns by the Shi’a, Salafi and Sunni communities, all demographics of the Muslim community. We might not all agree on how good could be achieved, but we can support it collectively.
Are there certain demographics that face greater challenges in getting their campaigns funded?
Historically, we know that black and inner-city communities are at a disadvantage. Crowdfunding is a reflection of your own crowd. When communities aren’t as affluent, you do see that in crowdfunding.
of the ways we explored to try and make that easier are to have staff picks or challenges where [a campaign] has to get the most donors to donate [as little as] one dollar to win. It is less about how much [a campaign] is giving as it is to engage people. We always ask ourselves, how we can equalize the playing field with crowdfunding?
Amany Killawi of LaunchGood with Michel Francois Soucisse of El Moore Lodge and Keith Owens of the Michigan Chronicle. Image source: Amany Killawi
What are some of the basics a campaign should have to be successful?
People have this idea that if I put it online, the money will just flow in. That’s not true. Crowdfunding is work. You have to reach out and ask people. I think the biggest thing is that people are afraid to reach out and ask.
I often tell people that you have to make it clear what it is that you are doing and why it is important [right away]. People don’t have time to read online. You [must] have a really solid pitch in the first paragraph.You [also need] a picture that is engaging. Don’t put a picture of your logo. It is not empathetic. People can’t connect with that. Put a picture of the people you’re serving or your community.
[Then] share it on Facebook, Twitter, email blasts. The best crowdfunding campaigns reach out to people individually. [They tell each person], “Hey, we’re launching our campaign in the next ten days. Here’s what we are doing. Here’s why it is important. Can I count on you to be the first to support?”
Crowdsource from everyone’s networks. You’ve got five friends, can each of them give 10 bucks? Your friends are all young professionals; can each of them give 50 bucks?
The type of campaign is important. Crowdfunding works really well when it is a tangible, specific project. People aren’t excited about supporting operational costs. [They] are more excited to support the first youth club at the masjid.
How easy is it to start a campaign?
It is actually super easy. Just go to launchgood.com and fill out the information. We try to make it self-explanatory. If you are a nonprofit, you’re pre-approved. [International campaigns may take longer to approve.] If it is urgent, you can submit as urgent and be live in 24 hours or less.
What is Giving Tuesday? Is it important for Muslim organizations?
Giving Tuesday is after Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. It’s a U.S. phenomenon that’s starting to catch on in other parts of the world. Facebook does a funding match on that day, but we realized that many people don’t get access to that match.
We felt like Muslim communities did not have a fighting chance to get match funding on Giving Tuesday. So, we reached out to sponsors and crowdfunded $100,000 to give out to the community in matches. Last year, we launched the Giving Tuesday Challenge, which had 40 prizes to win by either having the most donations or most donors. This year, will be 100k dollars worth of prizes.
We tried to level the playing field so everyone could get a piece and share the khayr (good). We are aiming to do it again this year. We built a whole page of resources to help communities build more funds. [And], we have our team that anyone can reach out to ask for help and advice.
Which are more frequent, larger or smaller donations?
The average donation is going to be under 100 [dollars]. Crowdfunding is getting a lot of people to give a small amount online. That’s what makes it sustainable. It’s not a burden on one person. We’re sharing it as a collective.
[The concept is] not new. Many of us come from communities with collective crowdsourcing happening offline. You are giving people an opportunity to do something good. We’re here to help you replicate that online.