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Through a population-based study, it was identified the prevalence of people's willingness to donate their own organs and from their relatives, evaluating associated factors in an adult population. It was also identified their understanding of cerebral death.Cross-sectional study, with people aged 20 yr or older in the urban area of Pelotas, State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The instrument used was a structured questionnaire, filled out in individual interviews. Chi-squared and linear trend test were used in the bivariated analysis. Multivariated analysis was conducted according to a hierarchical classification model using Poisson regression. It was considered meaningful the value for p ≤ 0.05 two-sided.Amid 3159 participants, the prevalence to donate organs was 52%, amongst which 58% had expressed such willingness to a relative. Most respondents (80.1%) would authorize the donation of relative's organs who had previously declared their willingness to do so. When the subject had not been discussed, only a third of the total number of people interviewed would authorize the donation of a relative's organ. After adjustment to confusing factors, higher willingness was characterized among the youngest, the higher educated and those belonging to families with income over 10 minimum wages. The Evangelical and Jehovah's Witnesses practitioners showed to be less prone to donate.According to the study, when the peoples had not enough information regarding family member's donation wishes the rate of willingness to donate organs is lower. Sociodemographic characteristics influence the rate of public willingness to donate organs and campaigns educacional should be directed to improve rates of donation the organs.