DUBAI // They may be trying to help the less fortunate, but many Dubai residents and companies are unwittingly breaking the law, too .
There are only seven local charities authorised to collect contributions - whether they are goods or cash - within the emirate.
Anyone else wanting to do anything to raise money - from organising a sponsored walk to collecting goods for a charity - needs the approval of the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD).
"Individuals are not allowed to raise contributions," IACAD's head of charitable associations, Ali al Mansouri, wrote in an emailed statement. "Contributions can only be raised through organisations and societies licensed by the department."
Those authorised charities are: Dubai Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, Dubai Autism Centre, Beit Al Kheir, the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Awqaf & Minors Affairs Foundation, and The Relief Committee.
Other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), registered here or overseas, can organise fundraising events or collections only after gaining permission from the IACAD.
The process can take up to 21 days, depending on the complexity of the event, said Lola Lopez, the founder of Volunteer In Dubai. In her experience, she said, the IACAD's staff are usually able to complete the process for basic fundraising events within a week.
If approval is granted, the charity must still team up with one of the seven licensed bodies for the event. The licensed body may take up to 10 per cent of the contributions collected in order to cover its administrative fees.
When the fundraising is over, IACAD must be notified of "the amounts raised and the benefiting party, so said amounts can be documented according to the requirements of the Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid", Mr al Mansouri said.
The same rules apply to international NGOs registered overseas whose organisers wish to carry out fundraising events in the emirate. The rules apply to NGOs with offices in International Humanitarian City as well.
Those found flouting the rules face anything from a warning to the confiscation or re-direction of raised funds toward licensed societies.
Where you host an event is also important. Organisers of one popular Dubai sporting event were forced to cancel a charity auction last-minute on discovering that alcohol cannot be present at a fundraiser.
Despite the confusion, Ms Lopez said the laws are vital in order to safeguard a trusting and generous public, as well as the integrity of benevolent organisations.
For those wanting to climb a mountain or run a marathon for a registered charity in their home country, Ms Lopez suggested directing friends and family toward the organisation's official website. If they wish to make a private donation directly to the charity, there is nothing preventing them from doing so.
Tarig el Sheikh chose a similar route when he decided to use his participation in a white-collar boxing event this November to support the UK-registered charity Reach the Children UK.
Last week, he registered himself with justgiving.com - a UK website, with offshoots in the US and Japan, that allows people to set up their own fundraising webpages and choose from a host of registered and pre-vetted charities to support.
People can sponsor them online, using their credit cards, and the money is automatically transferred into the charity's registered bank account.
In three days, Mr El Sheikh has already managed to raise Dh15,000 of his Dh50,000 target.
"I was confused about the rules here; it's very hard to know what is legal and what is not," said Mr El Sheikh, an investment banker who was born and raised in Dubai. "I did not want to handle any cash myself, but I wanted to do something for a good cause.
"This is legal, secure, it's easy for people to use, and the website has gone through the process of screening thousands of charities."