Congratulations to ‘Oxford Thinking’ and the £1.3 billion (with one caveat!)

by Stephen Tall on March 15, 2012

A terrific piece of good news popped into my email inbox today from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford — and it’s good news whether you’re an Oxford graduate, or simply wish higher education more generally well:

It is with great pleasure that I am writing to inform you that the Oxford Thinking Campaign has now passed its minimum target of £1.25 billion raised for the collegiate University. In fact, recent successes take our running total to almost £1.3 billion.

It’s a phenomenal outcome to the first phase of the Campaign — which, full disclosure, I worked on until just a couple of months ago — and congratulations are due to all those who made it a success: academics and students in the departments and colleges, hard-working staff in development, alumni relations, communications and beyond. And above all of course to the supporters who gave their time and money to help Oxford in what it stands for — the advance of learning and discovery.

My headline, however, contains the word ‘caveat’, and it’s this. While I worked at Oxford one of my persistent bugbears was that universities (and fundraising more generally) tends constantly to be on transmit mode, rarely on receive: we tell people things, but we rarely ask them to tell us what they think, even more rarely to do anything positive themselves.

You can read the Vice-Chancellor’s letter here — and you may, like me, notice that there is no ‘call to action’. No suggestion that supporters might want to share this good news with their contemporaries. No asking supporters what areas of current need in higher education matter most to them. No mention of how supporters can make a difference over and above writing the next cheque (vital though that act is). These are all things supporters can and do want to do, and which Oxford can help them to do simply, just one click away.

I cannot end, however, without saying CONGRATULATIONS AGAIN to all my erstwhile Oxford colleagues: an amazing achievement.