What’s wrong with Oxfam?

Mark Phillips (@markyphillips showed me the latest Oxfam TV campaign. You can see it here bitly.com/1eG3Ubx
Now I greatly admire Oxfam. They were the first charity I ever had a regular gift to (a standing order) and they have done amazing work for a long time. But their fundraising has gone very wrong. This latest ad demonstrates this very clearly.
If you go back through the history of Oxfam you will see they pioneered many of the forms of fundraising in the UK which we take for granted. They basically invested regular giving in the UK. By the late 1990s there were over half a million people in the UK with a standing order to them. They were among the very first charities to use DRTV and to get it to work for fundraising (eventually).
But for a long time they seem to have forgotten how to do fundraising. Income from individual supporters has been stagnating, falling in real terms. The number of regular donors appears to be gently declining. Few new donors seem to being recruited. And some of their recent campaigns have looked very strange.
And this current ad shows this very well. When you look at an Oxfam ad, you don’t see any need. You see happy, confident people doing really well. That’s very lovely. But why would anyone give any money?
This is classic bad fundraising. It doesn’t show why people need support, why it is urgent or what the charity will do with the money. It is about the organisation and not the donor. Basically, it is organisational vanity masquerading as fundraising.  It deserves the place it will surely get on Jeff Brooks’ peerless Stupid Non-profits ads website.
I know Oxfam have people working for them who are good fundraisers. For the Philippines cyclone appeal recently, Oxfam were the first charity to send me a mailing pack. It was clear, urgent and compelling. (Oxfam’s emergency response is first rate by the way).
So guys, why can’t we have more of that?


3 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Oxfam?

  1. Well put Tobin.
    It really is sad. It’s clearly ineffective fundraising, and IMO it’s also an injustice to not honestly portray the awful reality of poverty (and in the case of fundraising, how the donor can help).

    Unfortunately, senior staff in Oxfam (not necessarily in Fundraising) believe the opposite. Strongly.

    Nascient (and sensible) fundraising campaigns have been berated and squashed internally. Campaigns’ attributes have caused horror in Oxfam, but are ones considered effective, compliant, and ethical fundraising in similar charities (with similar standards, vision and policies). But there’s a strong sense that ‘we shouldn’t pander to donors’ at Oxfam.

    All a bit perplexing when Oxfam are so dependant on voluntary funds.

  2. In fundraising, especially in advertising, there has to be a balance. One where donors and the public need to be fully aware of these critical countries and the immediate aid they need. But also, there needs to be a positive result, due to kind donors, where lives have been vastly improved through food, education and agriculture. It is nice to be thankful and to let donors/the public know that no matter how small their donation is, it WILL make a difference. Balance is needed.

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