Fighting misconceptions and logistics to raise funds in Brazil

In Brazil, not many people understand the value of a social movement, non-governmental organization (NGO) or grassroots organization. Even among those who do, there is little recognition about what a rights approach is, and why it is important for specific human rights organizations to exist. Many Brazilians have misconceptions about human rights and who deserves them, such as the idea that criminals shouldn’t have rights or supporting lowering the age of criminal responsibility. We also now have strongly conservative political groups in the Congress organized against human rights principles and organizations. In addition, there is no fiscal incentive for donations in general, with a few exceptions in sports, culture and child-related initiatives. Otherwise, donations for non-profit organizations above a minimum value are charged at the same rate as Brazilian taxes on inheritance.

Even so, in our current political climate, there are a lot of citizens hoping for a better country and looking to take part of some kind of movement to facilitate change. With this in mind, the Brazil Human Rights Fund was established ten years ago to promote human rights and to raise awareness about how civil society organizations are essential political actors. The idea has always been to engage individuals by putting them in contact with rights-based organizations, in order to reveal how these organizations are a fundamental part of any possible social change. We believe that if Brazilian citizens understand the importance of frontline groups in promoting and defending their rights, it will be much easier to get support for their initiatives.

It’s hard to appeal to regular citizens who aren’t as affected by these violations. 

To date, we have accomplished many important goals. We are a well-known grantmaker in the field of human rights in Brazil, with a transparent selection process, recognized ability to empower grassroots groups, and an efficient monitoring system. Yet in a social movement with a long history and a culture that has experienced so much pain and suffering, the human rights movement has a tradition of presenting itself as necessarily being very serious. As such, it’s hard to appeal to regular citizens who aren’t as affected by these violations. It’s also sometimes difficult to be innovative, humorous or creative in breaking paradigms without appearing disrespectful.

In 2012, we undertook a qualitative research project to explore possible ways to raise funds for human rights from individual donors in the country.  We interviewed a few organizations in Brazil with expertise in fundraising, but not necessarily in human rights. Most respondents agreed that we needed to find a better way to communicate the causes, and they also stressed the need for real, long-term investment in fundraising efforts. One consultant noted that very few organizations in Brazil ask for money specifically to support human rights—for this reason, we would have to take more risks and ask for support without many good examples to follow or experiences to learn from.

In March 2015, we launched our first significant fundraising campaign, with a strategy to keep efforts going for at least the next three years. The campaign, “Say Yes to Human Rights”, was only launched online, since we still do not have the budget for face-to-face campaigns or other more expensive methods. We also wanted to experiment with what messages would best captivate society before expanding further. We recorded six videos on inequality, racism, slave work, violence against women, social promise and injustice with three well-known, and young actors. They were posted on social media and in some news websites to gauge which theme and which kind of actor (considering gender, race, age, and popularity) would get a better response from the public.

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To optimize fundraising for human rights in Brazil, groups must provide prospective donors with both the inspiration and the logistical means—such as new and varied donation methods—to contribute.

For the first three months, we got a conversion rate of 11% (meaning that 11% of people visiting our site clicked to donate) and we started to understand better what could work for us. However, we soon encountered a problem that we had not anticipated: from the 11% conversion rate, only about 3% wanted to pay using credit cards. The others preferred debit card or even bank slip, but after almost four months of negotiating and appealing with banks, we were told that they could not create this system for a non-profit organization. We ended up with no other choice but to take only credit cards.

This year, we launched the campaign again with only the credit card option and our conversion rate was much lower at 4.5%, though this is similar to other non-profit organizations in the country. Such issues with banks are a common problem in Brazilian fundraising, and a group of organizations is now assembling to demand better services from the banking system. Because of these logistical problems, it is still too soon to deeply analyse Brazilian behaviour when asking for money for human rights. Still, our results from last year indicate that the interest—and willingness to contribute—does exist. From our observations, those most willing to participate in the campaign are in or near their thirties, starting to build a family and getting concerned about their children’s future.

Currently, Brazil is going through a deep economic crisis and political upheaval. Even the most successful organizations are seeing their donations decline, and we are unable to predict when things will improve. Even so, we see this as the opportunity to keep innovating. We are sure that a significant part of our society would get involved with our causes if they better understood human rights. The political atmosphere and unrest among citizens indicates that people want a better country and are willing to do something to make that happen. It is now our job, along with other rights organizations in the country, to show them how.