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Philanthropy during COVID-19 in Brazil 

Shirtless man wearing a medical face mask

Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) released a new report, Philanthropy and COVID-19: Examining giving in 2021, in May 2022 that details COVID-19-related philanthropic funding in 2021. To understand how the pandemic impacted the philanthropic sector and civil society organizations around the world, we reached out to local experts who shared their observations and experiences over the past two years. The following case study from on COVID-19 in Brazil reveals how the social sector responded and adapted to the challenges and opportunities created by the pandemic. 

Brazil’s culture of giving and philanthropy has been growing since the 1980s. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this development, as Brazilian philanthropy mobilized to support civil society organizations, projects, and individuals in the face of crisis—providing more direct funding than ever before. According to a donation monitor, the number of funded social initiatives fighting the impacts of the pandemic rose to unprecedented numbers, totaling over US$1.3 billion by the summer of 2020. 

Candid spoke with staff from three different organizations—Associação Brasileira de Captadores de Recursos (ABCR), Grupo de Institutos, Fundações e Empresas (GIFE), and the Institute for the Development of Social Investment (IDIS)—to gain a better understanding of the systemic changes taking place in Brazilian philanthropy, stimulated by the pandemic. 

The social sector in Brazil is locally referred to as the “private social investment” sector and it consists of over 815,000 nonprofit organizations, as well as institutional donors. On the donor side, it is dominated by corporate investors who largely execute their own projects rather than administer grants. Community foundations, family foundations, and other private foundations make up a smaller portion of the sector. 

COVID-19 placed unparalleled pressure on the country’s health systems, economy, and the well-being of Brazilians. In response, the philanthropic sector mobilized significant resources to support pandemic relief efforts, donating money, food, and medical equipment directly to civil society organizations including hospitals. These organizations played a crucial role in spreading necessary information, distributing food, and fighting the overall effects of COVID-19 in Brazil. 

Innovative technologies helped mobilize fundraising campaigns and increase donations to support these efforts. Crowdfunding platforms amplified the needs on the ground to reach more potential donors and improved the process of connection, contributing to the resilience of the sector. João Paulo Vergueiro, executive director of ABCR, shared that these platforms coupled with the pandemic “helped foster the sector in Brazil in a way never seen before, including generating donations from the general public.” But he also noted that organizations with access to technologies, fundraising plans, and marketing campaigns fared better than those without. 

As highlighted in IDIS’s white paper, Perspectives for Brazilian Philanthropy in 2022, there is new energy from younger generations. They are more confident both in civil society organizations and in the power of giving, in comparison with the rest of Brazilian society. 

However, this sentiment is slowly changing, including among institutional funders. Family and corporate foundations realized during the pandemic that it would be more efficient to support projects led by civil society organizations, rather than starting up their own. This is perhaps the most noteworthy shift made by Brazilian philanthropists, who have traditionally sought to build their own solutions and programs rather than donate to third parties. ABCR was able to strategically track these donations as donors became more vocal about their activities for the first time, inspiring others both to give and to be transparent about their own giving. Of the corporate, family, and independent foundations and institutes surveyed by GIFE, 87% of donations directed for COVID-19 response were awarded to other organizations, a notable increase from previous giving practices. 

Patrícia Kunrath Silva, knowledge coordinator at GIFE, explained, “We have a movement in Brazil called ‘movement for a culture of donation’ which is based on the belief that empowered civil society organizations enable democracy. The movement aims to advance trust-based relationships and grantmaking between funding institutions and civil society organizations through partnership and collaboration.” 

She also noted that funders shifted their giving strategies in more ways than simply increasing donations. To meet rapid response needs, funders also participated in collaborative initiatives, sped up their processes, reduced bureaucracy, increased flexibility, and operated with more trust in civil society organizations. 

One such collaborative effort was the Health Emergency Fund – Coronavirus Brazil, promoted by IDIS, BSocial, and Movimento Bem Maior. They built a program to collect funds from companies, foundations, and individuals specifically to support Brazil’s health system. This centralized fund raised over US$8 million, and enabled donations to be distributed quickly to 58 hospitals, a research center, and a nonprofit. “Philanthropy has realized collaboration can take us forward. Trust had to be built quickly with organizations, and they proved they can do the work and that they know the local problems because they are close to beneficiaries. We hope this trust will stay,” shared Luisa Lima, communication manager at IDIS. 

The pandemic has shone a light on the possibilities for Brazilian philanthropy. There is hope that the sector can move forward with greater trust in civil society organizations by supporting them strategically with funds for both programs and institutional development. As Brazil, along with the rest of the world, continues to meet economic and social challenges in the years to come, there is hope that the learnings from this moment can shape the sector’s actions in the future. 


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