The risks of getting distracted in Major Gift Fundraising

Fundraising Convention 2016

Guest Bloggers | 16 June 2016

How do you tackle the challenges of static major gift income in a multinational organisation? James Webb, Head of Major Gifts at Oxfam reflects on his own experiences...

Major Gifts is one of the fastest growing sources of voluntary income in the UK. But despite the growth of philanthropy, Oxfam’s major gift income had been static, or even declining, for a number of consecutive years prior to 2014.

The charity had excellent relationships with its long-term, committed donors but was struggling to proactively attract the new supporters needed to increase its number (and value) of philanthropic partnerships.

In an attempt to tackle this challenge, Oxfam implemented one strategy and started creating a second:

  • A direct mail programme to engage all the potential major gift supporters on its database (approximately 4,500 people, many of whose engagement with the charity had been limited.


  • A major, cross organisational fundraising campaign (which never got beyond initial planning stages)


More alarmingly, focus on these plans detracted attention from some of the most essential aspects of successful major gift fundraising: putting individuals’ motivations and interests at the heart of our approach;  and building robust processes to enhance the programme.

We were neglecting to really get to know our existing and potential supporters.  As a result, we were providing contact, cultivation and stewardship opportunities that were about what Oxfam wanted supporters to hear / experience, rather than opportunities that would enrich supporters’ lives.

In short, we were not putting our audience at the heart of our work and did not have the processes in place to recognise this – growth was suffering as a result.

Over the past two years we have started to address these issues, refocusing our attention and developing essential systems and practices to create solid foundations for success.


James Webb, Head of Major Gifts, Oxfam


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