Awqaf Volunteers: The Intriguing Intangibles

Hisham Dafterdar, CPA, PhD
Chairman, Awkaf Australia Ltd

Awqaf is a voluntary sector built on charitable donation of assets and on mostly voluntary contribution of services. In awqaf, people volunteer for different reasons. There are people who volunteer because they see it as a way of getting Allah’s blessings, and others because they are passionate about the cause for which they volunteer. There are also those who want to give back to their community or contribute to the common good. Whatever the reason that motivates them, volunteers enable a waqf organisation to flex up its financial resources and advance its mission.

Donating time for a good cause is a sadaqah. Time being recognized as a very valuable asset, many Shariah scholars categorize the voluntary contribution of effort and time as a waqf. A skilled and passionate volunteer is a profoundly effective servant of Allah. Texts in the Quran and Hadith support the concept of volunteering. Allah says:

{..and whoever volunteers good, then indeed Allah is appreciative and knowing} 1-158

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), urging Muslims to develop a spirit of helping and giving, said:

(Whoever from amongst you can benefit his Muslim brother, he should do so) (Sahih Muslim)

The desire to make a difference by improving people’s lives is highest among professionals and careerists who believe that there is more to life than just to earn and consume. Helping without expecting anything in return produces a sense of gratification and fulfillment and makes others feel good as well. Volunteers supply specialized skills needed on projects and provide a raft of economic benefits for awqaf, in addition to the ultimate objective of upliftment of the poor.

Engaging volunteers can be very tricky and there are myths about volunteering that persist in awqaf which confuse the engagement decision. Finding and retaining the right people to volunteer and work is a major challenge. Most engagements result from an informal process or from personal ties. A clear understanding of the attributes, behaviors and social skills that make up the selection criteria of volunteers are essential before engagement.

The fact that volunteers offer their time and services for free, does not necessarily make them any more committed or useful for awqaf. Unlike paid employees who fulfill their duties under contract, volunteers are usually uncontracted and can leave anytime if they lose interest or there is a change in their personal circumstances. Beneficiaries may find it disconcerting dealing with different people each time. Volunteers will stay and do more if they are motivated and feel that their contribution is acknowledged and their work is valued.

Some awqaf organisations take on a lot more volunteers than they have a need for. This approach can be counterproductive. A bad recruit can create distrust and cause damage and loss of reputation to an organisation’s standing. Whereas volunteers bring needed skills for free, a waqf organisation could lose money and effectiveness, not to mention the legal pitfalls by engaging people who shouldn’t have been brought on in the first place. An organisation could be held responsible for the wrongful acts of its volunteers and also for harm or injury suffered while carrying out specific activities on its behalf. Hence, for all the perceived benefits, volunteers can potentially create problems which in turn can contribute to negative outcomes.

Volunteers need training as much as paid staff does. Every so often, a volunteer will be faced with situations and circumstances that challenge ethical behavior or trigger inappropriate responses. Volunteers have to be educated, inspired and adapted to the awqaf culture and the organisation’s mission. Awqaf organisations do not have sufficient resources and expertise to train volunteers. Training when it is provided, is often piecemeal and drawn from a confused mix of models and practices. Awqaf take the relaxed view that most people who offer their time are conscientious, honest and dedicated individuals who have chosen to work for no financial or social gain.

In addition to the training and coaching, and apart from the recognition and commendation, the financial argument is compelling. Whilst not every volunteer would want to be financially compensated, the reimbursement of actual out-of-pocket expenses incurred on behalf of the organisation is normally expected. The payment of “just a little something” periodically, may also seem like a nice way to say thank you for your time and effort.

Volunteers are awqaf’s intriguing resource and their services are often intangible and difficult to measure. Although volunteers represent an economic unit, their contributions, benefits and impact are rarely accounted for or reported. Most awqaf organisations do not know how to monetize the value of volunteer services. In the main, it is impossible to monitor every interaction and quantify the quality of these services. Some services should be recorded as defined in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) especially if the services provided would typically need to be purchased if not provided by volunteers.

Volunteers are the heart and soul of awqaf. They are awqaf’s true agents, giving hope to people who need it and working on goals that benefit both the beneficiaries and the volunteers themselves. Volunteering contribute to community development as well as personal improvement especially in such areas as the spiritual enhancement, self-fulfillment, and self-esteem. It is a win-win situation. Volunteering is a means to put into practice the fundamental principles of Shariah which advocate compassion, empathy, care and respect.

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