Lessons from Amsterdam: P2P Fundraising in The Netherlands

Bicycles are ubiquitous in the Netherlands and bicycling events dominate peer-to-peer fundraising in the country, as well. Photo by Andrey Filippov via Flickr

By David Hessekiel

As peer-to-peer fundraisers, we tend to focus largely on what’s working in the United States. But there’s a whole world of activity on the other side of the Atlantic that also deserves attention.

Take what’s happening in the Netherlands — a small country that raises modest sums through peer-to-peer fundraising, but also provides some interesting examples for U.S. nonprofits.

I recently spoke to a group of P2P fundraisers in Amsterdam to mark the release of the Netherlands’ top 20 peer-to-peer fundraising report by Peerworks, which offered a fascinating opportunity to learn how P2P in Europe compares to what we’re experiencing in the United States.

First the headline – the top 20 Dutch programs raised about €40.4 million or $48.2 million at current exchange rates. That number seems tiny when compared to the $1.27 billion raised by our top 20 programs, but it is somewhat less so when you adjust for the huge difference in population.

You can see the full results here.

The Netherlands is a tiny country of about 17 million people, only 5.2% of the US population of 326 million.   Put that into the equation and you see that the Dutch raise about 73% per capita compared to what Americans fundraise via their top 20 programs.   

This discrepancy is not a shock to Jillian Stewartthe ex-pat American who leads the Peerworks team.    

P2P is still in its infancy in the Netherlands, even though Holland is the most advanced country in continental Europe when it comes to this form of fundraising.

Quite interesting is how the Dutch top twenty programs differ greatly in character from their US counterparts:

  • Cycling programs dominate their top 20 with 14 programs involving cycling making it to their list (some offer alternatives to cycling if you want to walk or run the course, one combines cycling with skating – how Dutch!   Only 3 of the American top 20 involve cycling.)
  • Whereas the American scene is still dominated by multi-chapter walks and runs (11 out of 20), many of which don’t have fundraising minimums, the Dutch programs mostly require participants to raise money.  This is typical of cycling programs in the US which are logistically more expensive to run and often attract well-heeled cycling enthusiasts. (Many of the Dutch cycling programs are held outside of the Netherlands in Europe or Africa adding to their cost and complexity.)
  • A few unusual events make it onto the Dutch top 30 including two swims and the combination skate and cycle program I mentioned before.   There are no swimming programs in the US top 30. (The largest such program is Swim Across America which raised $7 million in 2017, about half of what it takes to make it onto the top 30 list.)

Stewart, who leads a company that provides data-driven consulting services to P2P campaigns in the Netherlands, believes that the Dutch peer-to-peer fundraising pool will grow substantially in the next few years due to a few factors:

  • Now the Dutch P2P scene largely attracts cancer charity programs  (10 of the top 20), but Stewart believes that NGOs fighting other diseases are ripe to start programs.
  • Dutch programs are now dominated by extreme, exotic events which by their very nature attract a small but intense following.  Stewart expects lower impact mass participation events to emerge.“Eventually the Dutch charities will start to realize that they don’t need to ask people to do some crazy international physical challenge in order to ask their communities to fundraise,” she said. “Just as they made it socially acceptable to get people to do challenge events (with fundraising as their ticket to entry)…they can ask their ‘masses’ to simply go out and fundraise and use the local 5K walking event as a means to connect the community and celebrate the impact they’ve made from doing that fundraising. Eventually that too will become ‘normal’ and acceptable.”
  • The Dutch may turn to the US or other countries for existing P2P programs to license instead of starting such programs from scratch.   “Dutch charities are willing to license successful concepts from American charities,” Stewart said. “For example, the American Cancer Society has licensed their Relay for Life to the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF) resulting in their Samenloop voor Hoop walking relay.”

And what is the top lesson American can learn from the Dutch P2P scene?

Perhaps it is to keenly observe what volunteer efforts are producing.

“Many of the events in the Top 20 (including the top two events–Alpe d’huZes and RopaRun) are produced by volunteers,” Stewart said. “So, American charities should be looking to their DIY programs (the event produced by volunteers) as “testing pools” for potential new signature event concepts.”

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