French Generosity, cuvée 2020, bubble or no bubble?

One year, “already”, but what a long and heavy year it has been. For some of us it has been dramatic. Bereavements, illness, the impact of the economic and social crisis with consequences that are still difficult to estimate.

And in this slump, the generosity of the French continues to grow, as it does during each humanitarian, climatic or health disaster.

In April 2020, I put forward the hypothesis of a bubble of generosity, as with every disaster, with a singularity: unlike tsunamis, earthquakes or other consequences of conflicts, this crisis also affects the whole population, including the one that usually donates. Would the latter behave as usual or would they withdraw, considering that it was up to the public authorities to take on such a challenge?

Well, it has to be said that a bubble of generosity has formed and that the French have mobilised themselves vigorously. The first indicators show a 20% growth in generosity from the general public (vs. -10% of GDP) and we are waiting for the figures from corporate sponsorship, which should not be outdone.

We still need to refine these figures and take a closer look at where this generosity has gone?

Logically enough, we might have thought that donations would be concentrated, “selfishly”, towards structures in the health and medical research sector, at the heart of the fight against the pandemic, which are able to help us.

But this is not the case. We were able to identify three circles of beneficiaries with varying degrees of resources.

The first circle, as seen above, is all the causes linked to the fight against Covid.

A second circle concerns organisations that help vulnerable and fragile populations, such as Secours Populaire, Secours Catholique, Emmaüs, the French Red Cross and the Salvation Army, to which should be added the NGOs that intervene abroad, such as MSF, MDM, ACF and HI.

This is one of the main characteristics of French and European (or at least continental) generosity, unlike the powerful American philanthropy, which gives mainly to causes that benefit its own donors.

Finally, a third circle, which concerns cultural organisations, heritage protection or various sporting activities that have been hit hard by this epidemic, has received little support because they are far removed from the concerns of the French during this period.

As in every crisis, there are winners and losers, and the organisations that suffer the most are those that are not very well known or that do not have a great capacity to solicit donors.

This bubble is also the result of the incredible inventiveness and vivacity of organisations of all sizes to solicit the generosity of the French. To traditional fundraising methods have been added innovative forms such as gaming, online auctions and solidarity lotteries, which have flourished with impressive success.

5th edition of the Z Event to benefit Amnesty International in October 2020. The event was a success with more than 50 hours of streaming and 5,724,377 euros raised.

The explosion of these initiatives is helped by the digitalisation of fundraising and payment methods.

If at the end of 2019, we were worried about the weak rebound of digital donations over the last two or three years, with a growth rate of more than 230%, the transfer to this vector of generosity has finally happened and we will not go back.

Civil society has shown great resilience. I mentioned Seneca in a recent editorial in the CerPhi news letter. I recalled that the philosopher had developed, in seven books, a Stoic analysis of the notions of ethics, gratitude, ingratitude and beneficence, and offered numerous tips for granting, receiving and returning benefits appropriately.

But his point is to assert the necessity of gratitude and benevolence, which for him are the most powerful bonds in human society.

In this time of pandemic and the incredible rupture that such a crisis constitutes, the need for gratitude and benevolence becomes a categorical imperative.

The Telethon 2020 raffle raised €2,175,850 with Stars Solidaires.

As we emerge from this crisis, which we hope will soon be over, how will the generosity of French companies and households evolve?

This year, which has seen half of the world’s population living at the rhythm of stop-and-go sequences, will impact our societies for a long time to come, on an economic, social, political and even geopolitical level.

The consequences are not yet fully known and very clear, but we cannot ignore this reality for long and go on as if nothing had happened.

A few economic sectors seem to be flying over this disaster. The world’s stock markets are back to their February 2020 levels and everything seems to be going well in the best of all possible worlds.

This disconnection between finance and the real economy, which has been denounced by many, adds to the obscene nature of the situation. Many sectors of the economy are on their knees and the stock markets are once again flying from record to record on the mountain of debt that countries are accumulating to avoid another global crash and that will have to be repaid year after year.

The philanthropic sector has also been spared by this crisis for the time being, but it is emerging ever stronger, as it does in the case of any major crisis or humanitarian disaster, given the explosion in social needs and the ever greater need to express generosity.

For the general public, its main contributors are senior citizens, the vast majority of whom are retired, who, having received their pensions as they do every month, are convinced that their savings are still protected and continue their unfailing support for associations and foundations.

On the large philanthropy side, donors who are part of the 1% who hold 50% of the wealth of all humanity, continue their philanthropic commitment, because they understand that their absence from the bedside of the most disadvantaged could come back to them in a boomerang.

The future of philanthropy may look bright, but there are some warning signs.

  • On the corporate side, despite the underlying trend of philanthropy, CSR and “good”, the economic sector, confronted with multiple challenges, is at risk of muffling its societal commitments.
  • As for large-scale philanthropy, the taxation of the highest incomes and assets is almost inevitable, which could lead to the defection of certain high taxpayers, who consider that their tax is already a significant contribution to the general interest.
  • Finally, will the general public resist for long if their savings and income collapse as the crisis worsens?

Let’s not play the Cassandra and bet on a positive outcome for the whole sector.

Antoine Vaccaro, President of CerPhi

To continue its mission of providing information and reflection on humanitarian action, Défis Humanitaires needs your help! If you are interested in this article, you can support us personally on the HelloAsso platform. Thank you for your support.

Who is Antoine Vaccaro ?

Antoine Vaccaro holds a doctorate in organisational science – Management of non-market economies, Paris-Dauphine, 1985.

After a professional career in large non-governmental organisations and communication groups: Fondation de France, Médecins du Monde, TBWA; he chairs the CerPhi (Centre for Study and Research on Philanthropy) Force For Good and the Fund-raising Lab. He holds various volunteer positions within associations and foundations and is also co-founder of several professional organisations promoting private funding of general interest causes: “Association Française des fundraisers, Comité de la charte de déontologie des organismes faisant appel à la générosité publique, Euconsult, La chaire de Philanthropie de l’Essec, 2011”.

He has published various books and articles on philanthropy and fund-raising.

Philanthropic benevolence

A Tribune by Antoine Vaccaro on philanthropy in the Covid-19 era.

The ordeal that our societies have been going through since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic is staggering, because it was unimaginable in a world convinced that it had, if not dominated nature, at least domesticated it.

The awakening is painful, because it comes at a time when many experts and scientists prophesied, thanks to Artificial Intelligence, such dazzling progress that life expectancy would exceed 200 years[1].

And patatras, our post-modern societies, to respond to the spread of a most pernicious virus, apply protections worthy of the 19th century (mask, hand washing, and containment) to try to slow it down while a cure and/or a vaccine is found.

Pride and vanity!

Many things have been said and written during this period of general confinement, notably about the blockage of the world economies, at a level never seen since the Second World War, about the dedication of the nursing staff and all the logisticians who ensured the supply of the country. Those whom a certain elite described as invisible, the little hands, who at the risk of their health, professionally carried out their mission.

I want to salute, here, the staff of the emblematic retirement home (EHPAD) of Mansle in Charente, who confined themselves with their residents, to avoid them a contamination that would have been disastrous.

From then on, countries split into two camps. Those whose governments were or are in denial and gave priority to the economy at the expense of the lives of their older and more fragile citizens, and those who put the protection of life above all other contingencies.

The dividing line has been roughly drawn between so-called populist governments, giving little credence to the conclusions and recommendations of scientists, and developing a “divisive” supremacist rhetoric between the strong and the weak, and those governments committed to protecting their people, at the cost of an unparalleled economic depression.

The Shakespearean alternative to which this “facetious” virus subjects us is: “Either you move and I will infect you and kill your old men. Or stay confined and you will experience the greatest economic crisis you have ever known”.

Storm under a skull!

Numerous criticisms have been directed at the decision-makers, sometimes justified, often polemical, but on balance, it seems that a very large majority of opinion has sided with the executives who have, as best they can, acted benevolently in the face of the greatest challenge they have faced in ages.

From then on, faced with the surge of “conspiracy theories”, putting philanthropic billionaires, pharmaceutical laboratories and Chinese geopolitics in the same bag, a large part of the population, astounded, will give the best of itself by acting with remarkable discipline and altruism.

The robustness of the generosity of the French, and more generally of the civil societies of the affected countries, during the most tense period of containment, was strong and is an indicator of collective resilience.

As early as March 18, I announced, in an article published in Défis Humanitaires [2], the inflation of a bubble of generosity which, as in every humanitarian crisis, grows to benefit all causes of general interest.

Probably a speculative vision because, for the first time, the crisis was directly affecting donors. Nothing comparable to mobilizing for the victims of a tsunami or a distant earthquake. Covid-19 directly concerns the whole population, including donors. This bubble logically inflated to the benefit of the organizations which are at the heart of this struggle: healthcare workers and researchers. But other structures acting alongside the most vulnerable, destitute or precarious; such as Emmaus, which had never appealed for financial donations, saw its €5 million emergency appeal exceeded by more than €2 million. Médecins du Monde and Secours Populaire also saw their collections increase.

We were therefore able to grasp the reality of this bubble which followed, as always, a Gauss curve, going in this case from mid-March – beginning of the confinement – to mid-May – beginning of the de-confinement.

Digital collection has increased by 600% compared to the same period in 2019 [3], all causes combined.

Organizations not accustomed to donor funding have seen an influx of unsolicited donations. The Assistance publique hôpitaux de Paris (APHP) and many other public and private hospitals throughout France accounted for nearly €100 million in donations. This is a record for actors who are far removed from the traditional philanthropic impulses.

The double-digit growth in the collection of donations for the general interest sector, compared to the drop in GDP of minus 30% over this period, is enough to demonstrate this.

And this financial part is only the tip of the iceberg. Mobilizations of all kinds have marked this confinement. Bakers offered pastries to hospital patients; restaurant owners among the most affected by this blockade emptied their refrigerators to the benefit of associations or families in difficulty. Some shopkeepers, who were able to stay open, offered drinks to the garbage collectors; organic box associations (AMAP) provided solidarity baskets to associations working with the homeless.

Thousands of small gestures by thousands of hummingbirds [4] trying to ease the rigors of this painful moment.

This epidemic has suddenly brought us back to the question of commitment and courage around the corner. Not that of the humanitarian in a war zone, but “that of the nurse who gets up in the early morning to take her shift in her intensive care unit, where a terrifying battle is taking place, to care for patients, out of breath, struck down by the Covid-19.

The face of heroism suddenly becomes more common and humble.

“These invisible people, whom we nevertheless admire but do not see: nurses, caregiver, firemen, all the emergency doctors, remind us that what we used to call little hands are infinitely more useful to us than the heroes of the stadium and other media celebrities whose feats, escapades, and lesser anecdotes make the headlines”[5].

The daily 8 p.m. appointment, when millions of people applauded the caregivers, is the quintessential expression of the gratitude expressed by an entire people suspended at the uncertain outcome of this confrontation, and is a simple form of the benevolence that gripped our society.


Antoine Vaccaro

President of the Center for Study and Research on Philanthropy (Cerphi)

President of Force for Good


Who is Antoine Vaccaro?

Antoine Vaccaro has a PhD in Organizational Science – Management of Non-Market Economies, Paris-Dauphine, 1985.

After a professional career in large non-governmental organizations and communication groups: Fondation de France, Médecins du Monde, TBWA; he chairs CerPhi (Centre for Study and Research on Philanthropy) Force For Good, by Faircom and the Fund-raising Lab.

He holds various volunteer positions within associations and foundations and is also co-founder of several professional organizations promoting private funding of public interest causes: Association Française des fundraisers, Comité de la charte de déontologie des organismes faisant appel à la générosité publique, Euconsult, La chaire de Philanthropie de l’Essec, 2011.

He has published various books and articles on philanthropy and fund-raising.

[1] Vivre 1000 Philippe Alexandre