Friday, August 29, 2014

Policy and Procedure defined

Following the delineation of the goals of the project, the ensuing steps revolved around identifying a viable structure and creating a procedure compatible with said goals.  The formation of both could not be complete independent of each other - they had to be worked on simultaneously.  This article will only touch upon the zakat policy and procedure.  The subsequent article(s) will discuss the different structure as well as outline the pros and cons - ultimately defining the current structure realized.  

Therefore outlined below is the most current zakat policy and procedure.  There were several policy revisions and alterations that corresponded with structural changes, hence a more complete understanding of the process will become evident following the discussion of the structure.

The process implemented currently involves the completion of an application.  The application makes it easier to document and track applicants.  However there was the concern that overly burdening zakat requestors may in fact turn them away.  In the Quran the reference is made to those who do not ask for assistance;  

[Charity is] for the poor who have been restricted for the cause of Allah , unable to move about in the land. An ignorant [person] would think them self-sufficient because of their restraint, but you will know them by their [characteristic] sign. They do not ask people persistently [or at all]. And whatever you spend of good - indeed, Allah is Knowing of it. [2:273]

We were unable to form a non application based system.  In smaller mosques, where the Imam and administrators intimately know the constituents, they were able to clearly identify those in need and provide.  However on a larger scale, we could not formulate a method.  This will continue to be one area that we plan on revisiting.  

The application used was a compilation of applications used at different mosques.  We took the most relevant items with the intent of keeping the application short and easy to complete.  Currently it stands at one page, with the back (second) page meant for the administration.  Also taken into consideration with the application was the ease of scanning and or inputting information to a database, as well as the environmental impact; several applications observed were greater than four pages.

The application can be viewed here.  It is currently being used in four locations, with the intent to be used in more locations rendering a uniform process throughout the region.

The zakat review process can be viewed here.  

The steps of the review process were grouped and summarized below.  Notes particular to the process are noted below;

The process opens with a quick explanation on the pillar of zakat, as well as the responsibility required by the administrator.  

We recommend that a Zakat Policy be posted, in a conspicuous location, to direct constituents pertaining to the receipt of zakat.  The recommended Zakat Policy and Procedure for posting can be viewed here.  This posted form plays a greater significance is mosques without offices, as constituents often are left baffled as how to receive zakat.    

One particular mosque without an office resolved this issue with a zakat application drop box viewed here.  Subsequently applicants would be contacted and an appointment would scheduled at an unassuming time.

Note that the requirement to apply at the most local mosque was added significantly later in the process.  This outcome will be discussed with the structure of the cooperative.

There is also a requirement for an interview; email or form submissions are not allowed.

Lastly, it was highly recommended that the individual conducting the interview jot down notes, thoughts and recommendations pertaining to the applicant and situation.  This helps overcome any language barriers and nuances otherwise difficult to determine when review paper applications.

Determination of eligibility to receive zakat
Upon successful application submission, the determination of eligibility would have to established.  A large number of applicants in our initial trial were requesting amounts under a certain threshold [$350].  In an attempt to expedite applications under this threshold, applications below it could be processed without committee review.  Periodic reviews of completed applications would happen to ensure compliance.   

Establishment of need
The heart of this process lays in this nuance area.  On one side, the goal is to fulfill the request of those eligible without overburdening the applicant.  However, on the opposite side, we strive to protect the funds of the zakat giver by sifting through the information to ensure that everything is legitimate as we have experienced forged documents.  What is most often experienced is the negligent spending and saving habits of individuals ultimately leading the working poor to a deficiency.  
Most people applying are not interested in financial counseling or recommendations pertaining to their financial well being.  They simply need a bill paid.  More often than not, the bill is paid.  In the event a trend is established, by repeated requests for similar items, an intervention pertaining to their habits is more warranted.

Most important was simply setting up a protocol which would guarantee a consistent process for applicants as well as administrators.

Type and amount of need
We are fortunate to live in a country and society that offer plenty of social services and assistance methods to those eligible.  However the majority of these programs take quite a bit of time to complete - from applying to approval.  Unfortunately time is not on the side of most applicants.  In the event time may not be of the essence, or a pattern was identified, or the request lay outside the realm of our assistance, applicants are requested to apply at outside agencies.  Currently we do not have a protocol to follow up with applicants to ensure successful agency assistance.  This also warrants revisiting in the near future.

Record keeping and review
As previously mentioned, the majority of applications requested less than $350.  To ensure prompt handling, the review process could be completed by one person - the interviewer.  The cornerstone of this method is the periodic review, conducted by the larger zakat committee, to ensure compliance.  Hence there must be a safe method of storage for applications.

Defining of Asnaf
The review process is concluded with a quick explanation on the different categories of recipients as well as distribution allocation.  With the prevalence of poor and needy in the immediate vicinity, the priority defines was with the poor and needy.

With the process clearly defined, subsequent articles will outline the structure implemented.  If you have any questions or recommendations pertaining to the process, please feel free to comment or contact us.

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