Gama Magazine: How can Brazilians donate more?

Gama Magazine: How can Brazilians donate more?

Originally published in Portuguese by Gama Magazine.

Achieving social change requires creating a culture of giving, not just acting sporadically. Gama investigates how to make philanthropy part of our daily lives and values.

It’s not just common sense: there is data to prove the solidarity of Brazilians. According to this year’s World Giving Index survey, Brazil is the 18th most supportive country in the world, and the “helping a stranger” indicator was the one that suffered the most significant increase – we rose from 36th to 11th place in the last 12 months. On the other hand, we saw a drop in private donations over the course of the pandemic, after a boom in April 2020, at the height of the health crisis. Although the wealthier classes began to donate more, the lower classes, which have always proportionally participated more in donations, were unable to contribute for economic reasons.

“We are living a very peculiar moment,” says Vanessa Henriques, executive manager of the MOL Institute, which produces content to raise awareness, engage and inspire donors, and connect causes, businesses and people to projects that promote civic engagement and generate donations. According to her, more than two years after the start of the pandemic, we still don’t see a lasting change in the philanthropy landscape. “Having donations in good quantity and especially recurrently is something that every non-governmental organization needs to develop its work. If more people and companies donate, they have the support to continue acting where the State doesn’t.”

A good example of the importance of these organizations was right at the arrival of covid-19 in Brazil. “We saw in a few weeks of lockdown a network of people and institutions that organized themselves very quickly to bring PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], masks, oxygen, food to those who needed it.” Henriques says the response from this sector was very fast, in contrast to the government, which has a large and time-consuming structure, making the process difficult. “This illustrates the power of civil society.”

But it is not only in tragedies, natural disasters, and economic crises that Brazilians should show solidarity. The more emotional behavior, which is easily moved by the pain of others in these moments, is indeed one of the obstacles to the more recurrent practice of philanthropy. Gama gives below an overview of the Brazilian landscape when it comes to the culture of donation, and suggests ways to improve the scenario.

Much distrust

Trust is one of the main points to be observed when we intend to encourage donation. The Doação Brasil research, conducted by the Institute for Development of Social Investment (IDIS) in 2015 and 2020, brought some of the reasons mentioned by those who don’t donate – such as not having money, thinking that social problems are the government’s responsibility, not trusting the organizations, and not knowing the destination of the donated amount. “All this shows the spirit of distrust, which makes it difficult to donate more perennially,” says Vanessa Henriques, from the MOL Institute.

For her, we have a lack of invitations to donate – that is, encouragement to make it happen. “We see a lot of embarrassed requests, and they need to be more frequent, multiple, and frank.” To that end, she brings up stores, retail chains, payment services, and delivery apps as possible spaces to promote philanthropy. Henriques believes that if we have more invitations and more ways to call people to donate, there will be greater proximity and intimacy between the individual and philanthropy, making it easier to donate.

Photographer and entrepreneur Mariana Brunini, who is the executive coordinator of the Movement for a Culture of Donation, talks about “experiencing donation”: “When we experience and live it, we understand in practice the power of transformation of that attitude,” which, according to her, brings people closer to the third sector and makes the role of social movements more evident. “Ignorance and mistrust are two major barriers to a more consolidated culture of donation.”

Little tax incentive

“We don’t have a tax incentive for donation in general,” says Paula Fabiani, CEO of IDIS. She explains that, on the one hand, we have a system that allows us to direct our income taxes to tax incentive laws, such as the Rouanet Law, the Audiovisual Law, and the Sports Incentive Law – which means that the government gives up this percentage and allocates the amount to these projects. “At the same time, it is a complex and bureaucratic process, so very few people use it. The percentage is below 5%.”

Brazilian states today levy a tax on those who make donations, the Tax on “Causa Mortis” Transmission and Donation of Any Assets or Rights (ITCMD) – a type of practice rarely adopted in other countries. “Today the ITCMD treats the transfer of property equally, whether for philanthropy or not,” says Cássio França, secretary-general of the Group of Institutes, Foundations and Companies – GIFE. In addition, inheritance donations are limited to a maximum of 8% of the total value, which prevents large fortunes from being dedicated to philanthropy, as we often see abroad.

“Abroad, with a much higher inheritance tax, when you donate and direct it to social causes, you get exemption, which stimulates people to donate while you’re still alive,” says Paula Fabiani. She concludes that Brazil discourages donations, precisely because it makes it much easier for inheritance to be destined to one’s own family than to organizations.

Donate, always

Whether due to emotion, sensitivity to the pain of others or religious background, the fact is: Brazilians donate, but almost always in tragedy and with little consistency. “We are empathetic, we want to get involved, especially when we get emotional in extreme situations. We want to be part of the solution,” she says. “It’s just that Brazilians can’t get past this moment of emergency and immediate assistance and look at philanthropy as something that can improve society.”

The Catholic and Christian orientation, according to Paula Fabiani from IDIS, also has a significant impact on the culture of donation. “We are not used to talking about it, unlike Protestants, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, where saying that you donate is a reason to be proud. There is a much greater social demand, even.”

This notion, fortunately, has been changing. In the 2015 Doação Brasil survey, around 86% of the population thought they should not say they donated. In the 2020 edition, the number dropped to 75%. “It’s a remnant of religious values, which they put as a snobbish attitude. I like to think of it another way: if we don’t talk about our donations, it will never stop being a taboo, we won’t move forward,” says Vanessa Henriques. “We need to abandon the shame of talking about donation and bring it into our daily lives.”

Patrícia Villela, from the Humanitas360 Institute, which works to reduce violence and improve the quality of life of the population, believes that one should look at philanthropy as more than just donating money. “We confuse it with charity, which is absolutely necessary. But for there to be an impact on public policies, and hence this perpetuity, we will need philanthropy, which is also the donation of time, of intellectual and civic capital.”

According to her, for there to be a culture of donation, we need methodology, orchestration, and systematization. It is one more component to change society, together with other instances of power, but alongside civil society, which knows the reality not only by data, but by experience. “In charity, I give myself the right to get tired of not seeing things change. Philanthropy has a short, a medium and a long term look, it is institutional and intergenerational.”

Vilella, from the Humanitas360 Institute, argues that donation should be planned because “this way we assume it as a responsibility, a commitment, and it becomes in fact culture.” This allows the practice to be passed on from generation to generation: “We have to include everyone, so that even those who can’t donate in cash can help in other ways. Or else, how can I teach my son this culture? It can only be with what he can already provide at a young age.”

Something to be improved

Gama asked specialists to suggest ways to promote change. What has to be done and what does the Brazilian people need to change in their behavior so that philanthropy is practiced in a deeper and more recurrent way?

Discover your cause
It is a personal question: what do you want to change in society? The answer should be more specific than “education,” simply. “Is it education in early childhood? In high school? Focus on a cause and look for an organization that acts in that area that you think is fundamental,” suggests Paula Fabiani, from IDIS. “Organizations need to survive all the time, it’s not a sporadic donation that will solve the problem.” IDIS and MOL have created a test to help you in this search: the Discover Your Cause, which produces, from the answers, a report with ways to contribute, volunteer job openings, people to follow on social media. “When we talk about a subject that we know, like and are interested in, it is much easier to engage and do something about it,” says Vanessa Henriques, from the MOL Institute.

Be accountable and find interesting institutions
As one of the obstacles to the practice of philanthropy is mistrust and little knowledge about the destination of donated resources, Patrícia Villela, from the Humanitas360 Institute, suggests following the organization closely, as well as choosing one where it is possible to cultivate some kind of relationship. “Accountability builds credibility. When the donor receives that accountability, they will feel part of it, more confident.”

Finding institutions with the capacity to change takes dedication and a lot of study. If you lack time for that, Inês Lafer, founder of the Confluentes platform, talks about the importance of the referral network to discover diligent social movements when the time to donate comes – “just like we base ourselves on referrals when hiring services,” she recalls. Confluentes is responsible for curating organizations, monitoring them, and even making referrals to allocate resources. It is a connection link between individuals and institutions, all selected for their high potential to promote change.

“We have experience and reputation in the third sector, and we look for organizations committed to causes that we call strategic, that is, that will effectively work to change structural inequalities in the country,” says Lafer. “Then we transform this package of complex things into viable donations for those outside the sector.”

Put the donation in your budget
Patrícia Villela talks about planning the donation, doing all the calcullations, just like the water or the electricity bill. “That’s what commitment is all about, not ‘if there’s any left over, I’ll donate’.” Vanessa Henriques follows the same reasoning, and talks about putting the donation on the credit card, on the recurring PIX payment system, on a regular bill. “It’s part of financial planning, like any bill you pay.” That way, the donation enters daily life and becomes much more efficient.

Knowing the – albeit few – incentives to donate is also important. “An awareness campaign, almost a pro-donation financial education would be an interesting way for us to know better how to manage and administer resources, and forward them to initiatives that need them,” says Villela.

Let us have good examples in mind
“We certainly need more public policies to promote philanthropy, in addition to a better regulatory environment,” says Paula Fabiani. “There was not, for example, legal security for those who wanted to create an endowment, as in the US, which are structures to finance causes on a long-term.” She mentions the opening of this sector and the expressive growth of endowment funds. “There are studies that show the relationship between tax incentives and the propensity to donate. It’s a positive relationship.”

As much as each nation has its unique and specific history, Vanessa Henriques recalls some attitudes from other countries that could be applied in Brazil. Small actions that can make a bit of difference. “There’s a little box at the airport where you can donate your foreign currency, those pennies left over from your trip that you won’t use. Also volunteering as a criterion for admission to a university. These are examples that could be used in different contexts,” she concludes.