Fusing opportunities with philanthropy

Professor David Gann  image courtesy Imperial College London

Professor David Gann reflects on how the increasing pace of philanthropic giving to Oxford shows a trend in donors wanting to see impact in tackling global problems. The University’s Development Strategy sets out a bold plan to capitalise on these opportunities. An integrated approach across the collegiate University will help to realise our ambitious plans.  

The last few years have seen a remarkable range of philanthropic gifts, which have strengthened Oxford’s commitment to excellence in teaching and research.  These gifts have changed lives, contributed to saving lives today and in the future and significantly helped to increase our understanding of the world. Recent examples include major gifts to boost Oxford’s mission to counter pandemic threats, an innovative programme to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds raise their academic standards to apply successfully to Oxford, and research to integrate climate data into financial decision-making.  

This focus on outcomes is part of an increasing convergence between academic opportunities and donor interests, which is becoming much more focused on tackling some of the world’s most difficult and persistent issues and making advances in scientific or cultural understanding. When I am on the road meeting donors, I encounter scope to match our academic interests with philanthropic opportunities. Working together, our academics and fundraisers are turning opportunity into reality. The pace of fundraising is increasing. So far this year, our teams have raised £100 million more than a ‘typical’ pre-pandemic year, and we still have a quarter of the year to go. 


Our Development Strategy, endorsed by Council last July, seeks to capitalise on these opportunities. It focuses on seven broad multi-disciplinary themes, created following a wide-ranging consultation and academic insights. We wish to engage with a broad range of colleagues from across the University and colleges and we are particularly keen to hear audacious ideas that we can align with potential donors.  

Initial lead projects for each theme are shown in the table, alongside their academic champions.    


Academic Champion

Initial lead project

Shared Planet

Professor Sir Charles Godfray

Green Chemistry

Transforming Health

Professor Gavin Screaton (with differing leads for each project)

Pandemic Sciences (Professor Sir Peter Horby)

Being Human

Professor Dan Grimley

The Schwarzman Centre 

Visionary Ideas

Professor Patrick Grant

Fusion Energy

Inspiring People

Professor Martin Williams

Graduate scholarships for those from disadvantaged areas

Knowledge Infrastructure

Professor Anne Trefethen

Future Bodleian

Accelerating Innovation

Professor Chas Bountra

The Centre for Leadership in Health

Tougher economic conditions and tighter budgets are underscoring the role philanthropy plays in the University’s funding. A oneteam integrated approach between the teams in my portfolio   Development, Public Affairs, Alumni Relations and our international offices will help us deliver our goals. Oxford’s global recognition is outstanding: we need to find ways to build on having been the standout university on the global stage in the pandemic and demonstrate how we are and can be part of the solution to other major global problems. I would like to thank all those who have helped us to deliver so much so far, and I look forward to working with you on the many wonderful projects we need to help fund.