The 5 fastest growers and their recipe for success

Published by Reinier Spruit on

That we all love ‘rankings’ was clear again when last December I posted a ranking of the fastest growers in Dutch fundraising revenue in recent years. The blog post is by far the most read post on 101fundraising so far and got a lot of reactions.

The post didn’t zoom in on organizations who increased their income substantially compared to the previous year, but the organizations that have a high average growth rate over several years (2006 – 2010). The idea is that by looking at the long-term, we’re looking at organizations who are doing something special in fundraising.

Ramses Man and myself questioned what these organizations did so well. So we decided to organize a ‘diner pensant’ and invited the five fastest growing organizations.

Jolanda Omvlee (director Compassion), Frits Hirschstein (director KiKa), Ruud Tombrock (director WSPA Benelux), Ellen Kooij (head of marketing, communications and fundraising War Child) and Wimco Ester (head of communications and marketing Open Doors) accepted our invitation and shared the recipes of their success in fundraising.

In this post Ramses and I give you an impression of this memorable evening…

In total there are 13 organizations (with gross income from fundraising of at least 5 million) in the 2006-2010 period that have grown with an average of more than 10%. Among them are big charities, such as KWF (€ 103 million, CAGR: 10.6%) and MSF (€ 46 million, CAGR: 13.4%), but if we look at the 5 best fundraisers of Netherlands the biggest growth happened with organizations that have income from own fundraising in 2010 between € 6.6 and € 11.1 million.


Menu: “La croissance du revenu des raisons”

The main question that everyone is waiting for: Why have you grown so fast? Of course, growth is always the sum of several reasons, but we would like the main reason for each of your organizations.

Frits Hirschstein: “I can easily answer that for KiKa. We stay very close to the people, so that’s why people know our organization very well. A few years back we introduced the slogan ‘take action’, which was picked up very practical. By now 3,600 actions are organized per year for KiKa with an average revenue of 2,200 euros! The role of KiKa is to facilitate these actions where necessary. To facilitate all actions we have four people in the office, to respond to incoming mail. It is essential that we always stop by the action to thank the organizers. This can be done by a paid employee or a volunteer. Organizers are sincerely appreciated, so you win ambassadors for your organization. Sometimes there is an action we’re not really happy with. Some time ago they were tattooing for KiKa… if we knew that in advance… But we choose not to be aware of everything in advance, which is not possible anyway with 10 actions per day.”

Ellen Kooij: “At War Child we see the same. People want to act locally for War Child and as an organization you need to act accordingly. It also gives you a lot of positive PR in all local newspapers, which are widely read! But as the leading reason for the success of War Child, I mainly see the brand itself and the goal we pursue. We help children affected by war and present ourselves through music and focus on a younger audience. The average age of our donor is around 35 years. Therefore we don’t the use the mainstream channels to reach our target audience. Our biggest success was the War Child Concerts. Everyone who attended the concert was automatically a regular donor, while access to the concert was free. That was one side of the success, but what was also very successful was that War Child got everything – and I mean literally everything – sponsored. In total, there were more than 100 sponsor parties involved in the organization of the concert. This gave a sense of unity, and there was a War Child experience. Unfortunately, the tour stopped in 2009 after 7 editions. The concert was especially profitable because it was broadcast on television, where we were able to recruit many new donors. Over the years it became increasingly difficult to get free prime time airtime on a tv channel, because no concert bring high ratings. We’re now looking whether we can organize the concerts in a new way. We have also built up a very large network because of the concerts. Our actions with Radio 538 are a good example. ”

Wimco Ester: “I’m still somewhat surprised about the story of Frits. At Open Doors there is a more controlled environment, although we try to let go more and more. In recent years we have made much progress in the field of data analysis and targeted direct marketing campaigns, but also in making our work personal, so we can clearly tell our story to our donors. But what makes us truly unique is our donors, who are so extremely loyal and committed. Approximately 6,500 people came to our national Open Doors Day in 2011 to hear personal stories from and about persecuted Christians. That is the power of Open Doors. As a Christian the topic is so powerful. Of course you want to support your fellow Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith. The stories of persecuted Christians are inspiring: you hear stories about people’s lives who life for their faith. That makes the faith alive and it shows that faith can affect everyday life. This makes Open Doors strong: the story, the subject and personal stories. ”

Ruud Tombrock: “The success of WSPA is short and simple. Spontaneous brand awareness is almost absent, it’s 8%. The active recruitment of large gifts or legacies is unknown to us. In recent years WSPA did two things and two things very well. That is the broadcast of Direct Response TV commercials and online marketing. WSPA began with the DRTV commercials and immediately there were 1,200 new donors coming in every month, and then we also started working online. WSPA knows how to reach the sensitive animal lovers. We have, in short, reached the right people with the right message through the right channels. Donors tell us that they are happy that WSPA shows real animal suffering, because that also exists on this planet. We can’t reach some animal lovers with our communication, which are families with small children, because the parents change the channel during such a commercial. That might be the shadow side of our success. Although the two recruitment methods work very well, WSPA is going to try to bind other target audiences via other channels. At the same time we started with upgrade and development activities on our current supporters. Diversification is the key.”

Jolanda Omvlee: “The supporters of Compassion is wide Christian and we must compete with three other Christian child development organizations. In order to distinguish ourselves from the rest Compassion has decided to put the name of Jesus prominently in the logo. I think this largely contributed to our growth. We present ourselves very clearly as Christian oriented. The fact that all the work in the project countries of Compassion is organized from the local church contributes to this. Also in the Netherlands Compassion works with many churches. The concept of Compassion is that you sponsor one specific child. You write with “your child” and you can also easily visit “your child”. A lot of individuals do that, but Compassion also travels with many top business executives to the projects. Almost every week there is an international visitor in a project. That doesn’t mean they’re just watching; it enables interaction and exchange of knowledge and habits. And of course an intense experience for the donor to see with their own eyes what happens with their money. In short, our success is that we have developed a very solid child-sponsorship program developed by and for the Christian audience.”

We thank Jolanda, Ellen, Fred, Ruud and Wimco for sharing their experiences with us. Use it to your advantage and maybe next year we invite you for a dinner!


Ramses Man Founder / Partner at Nassau, a full service fundraising consulting firm, specialized in relationship-based fundraising.

[You can also read the extended Dutch version of this blog post on 101fundraising.]

[The extended Dutch version of this article also appeared in the Dutch Fundraising Magazine, February / March 2012.]

Reinier Spruit

Reinier Spruit

Reinier is in love with fundraising since 2001. Ever since he's trying to improve his own fundraising skills and those of others. He's one of the original founders of 101fundraising. At the moment working with amazing clients through his one-man fundraising consultancy. Loves running and baseball.


Mitch Hinz, WWF · March 20, 2012 at 02:59

Fantastic information, Reinier, really interesting and insightful.

It seems both KiKa and WarChild are finding it best to get close to their donors, KiKa with peer-to-peer events that let people “take action” and War Child with concerts and ‘fun’ activities that benefit the cause.

For Wimco, its is even more personal, with persecuted Christians telling their real stories directly to the donors, and connecting them thru Open Doors day, which I’m sure is the basis for their successful direct marketing efforts.

Compassion Netherlands tries to also make one-to-one connections real with international visitors to their projects — again the idea of connecting the donor right to the person they help, and getting close to the recipients of their gifts.

And of course, WPSA, who has ‘written the book’ on DRTV to Web fundraising, showing the real-life and senseless torture of animals, and not being afraid to ask people to protect those creatures who cannot protect themselves.

Many “hats off” to all this successful fundraising in the Netherlands, and thanks again for showcasing the “best” of our industry. It is really inspirational for those of us working in places where charity giving is relatively new, and establishing the sense of ‘connection’ between the donor and what his or her gift does is often the most difficult step.


    Reinier Spruit

    Reinier Spruit · March 20, 2012 at 20:19

    Thanks Mitch!

    There are indeed a couple of common themes running through their success stories.

    – Getting close to the donor and connecting with them by talking their ‘language’.
    – Creating ambassadors for life by giving them a donor experience.
    – True, authentic and emotional stories that illustrate the importance of their work.
    – Becoming the best in what you do by testing, improving and investing.

    Thanks again!

Muhwezi Henry · March 20, 2012 at 08:47

Thanks for the dialogue. Its great and really encouraging. May be next time you could be specific and share about attracting donors during online fundraising events especially for organisations based in African countries. Some of these methods a very feasible for EU countries, USA and Australia. But May be in African based organisations, we may have to fine other approaches since at many organisations,these people learn about us for the first time. Keep sharing, the blog was very helpful.

    Reinier Spruit

    Reinier Spruit · March 20, 2012 at 20:30

    Hi Henry,

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you find it useful!

    You ask me (or one of the other crowdbloggers) to blog about online fundraising especially for organizations based in Africa, because they need another approach than in Europe or the USA.

    Actually I’m not so sure whether that’s true. I think most of the same principles will apply in Africa. What works in Europe has a large chance of also working in Uganda I would say, with the exception when being affected by local regulations or infrastructure.

    I’ll ask around and see if I can get one of the bloggers to write a blog post about “online fundraising” for starting organizations. (Probably also useful for the organizations who think they are very advanced ;-) )


Jay Perdue · March 23, 2012 at 13:00

Very curious to know what “online marketing” techniques are working specifically for fundraisers. Banner ads? Social media? Promotions? Or integrated campaigns involving all of these and more?

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