Ordem e progresso and generosity? Brazilian philanthropy in a nutshell

The report Philanthropy in Brazil notes that Brazilian philanthropy is generally punching below its weight especially on matters of social justice and human rights. With President Jair Bolsonaro threatening not only some of the gains Brazil has made in securing the rights of marginalised groups but also the capacities of civil space in Brazil, what does this mean for the future of philanthropy and organising in the country? In this article William Renaut provides an overview of the current context.

A lightweight voluntary sector
If we forget it easily, Brazil has only been a democracy for 30 years: the new constitution, drafted after the fall of the military dictatorship, came into force only in 1988. The creation of associations and NGO is recent (70 per cent is under 30 years old); the Brazilian associative sector therefore remains limited in its size and resources – in 2012, the number of nonprofits in Brazil was estimated at 400,000. This figure does not include religious organisations, which accounted for a quarter of the organisations in the previous census. Beyond this figure, the challenge lies in the means of the sector, except for universities and hospitals, 74 per cent of nonprofits have no employees and only six per cent have more than 10. In 2009, only 20 per cent of the members of the Brazilian Association of NGOs declared an annual budget higher than one million US dollars.

International NGOs in Brazil
Although the capacity of the Brazilian voluntary sector is questionable, the fact remains that the country is home to regional delegations of many international NGOs, including Amnesty, Oxfam, Greenpeace. This presence is undoubtedly an opportunity for the development of the generosity of Brazilians. Thus, the local branch of Médecins Sans Frontières now has 400,000 donors. The vitality of some major players should must not overshadow the fact that, aside from the environment and human rights, major international donors tend to turn away from Brazil. Indeed, it is increasingly seen as a middle-income country and therefore becomes less of a priority. The country became an international donor on development issues in 2011.

Low confidence = low generosity
The struggle for local champions of the non-profit sector to emerge is far from won. In fact, Brazil suffers from a global mistrust toward NGOs. Corruption scandals and difficulties in communication, even though they are the fact of a minority, they can harm the whole sector and particularly the fundraising efforts. On top of that, the legal and fiscal environment further complicates the exercise of generosity. Donations are subject to taxation (rates vary by states as Brazil is a federal entity) and, if an exemption list exists, registration is a long process that has to be renewed each year. Finally, if payment of the tax on donations is the responsibility of the recipient, the donor may be sued if the non-profit fails to. The lack of trust and this complex legal context likely account for part for the country’s 122nd position in the World Giving Index.

A strong and operative corporate philanthropy
Despite this relatively bad ranking, it is estimated that 68 per cent  of Brazilians donate and that donations account for 4.2 billion US dollars per year. Initiatives like Dia de Doar ‘Day of Giving’ contribute to the development of a culture of generosity. Beyond individuals, companies are a major actor in the Brazilian generosity landscape. The reference association on philanthropy and patronage is the GIFE. Without claiming representativeness, its memberships are composed for 53 per cent of corporate foundations or business institutes against 17 per cent of family foundations. In general, more and more Brazilian companies are financing ‘social projects’ (87 per cent) or promote volunteering for their employees (67 per cent). On the other hand, the Brazilian foundations predominantly operate their own projects and only 16 per cent concentrate on distributive activity.

An unfavorable context for development
While the excellent report by Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace noted several areas for improvement and progress, particularly on the issue of impact investing, the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro does not bode well. One of the first actions of the president-elect was to remove LGBT community advocacy groups from organisations protected by a new ministry of human rights. He also accused the NGOs of ‘manipulating the Brazilians’ and gave his government the legal means to further control their actions.

After the USA and Hungary, the new president of Brazil is giving his government the power to complicate the actions of the nonprofit sector and it’s a question of how will be the Brazilians and the Brazilian philanthropic sector react?

William Renaut  is a Communications and fundraising consultant.

The article was originally published on carenews.com on 14 January 2019. The original article can be viewed here. It is cross-posted here from the Alliance website.