Oxfam Uses Text Messages to Turn a Powerful Event into an Ongoing Commitment

4 minute read

Upland Admin

Challenge: How do you connect attendees of a local event with an international organization?

Oxfam is a global movement of people working together to end the injustice of poverty. With 70 years of experience in more than 90 countries, Oxfam takes on the big issues that keep people poor: inequality, discrimination, and unequal access to resources including food, water, and land. The organization helps people save lives in disasters, build stronger futures for themselves, and hold the powerful accountable. In order to have a far-reaching impact, Oxfam empowers students and volunteers to take action in their local communities. Oxfam provides the resources, and the activists bring their passion and local knowledge to create grassroots events.

The Oxfam Hunger Banquet® is one of the organization’s most powerful events. The banquets are designed to simulate global income inequality by inviting attendees to draw a ticket at random, and eat a meal that corresponds to that ticket’s description.  Hunger Banquets have touched hundreds of thousands of people’s lives over the past forty years.

Oxfam volunteer Sarah Lucey explains:

“When people come, they draw a ticket at random that assigns them to a high, a middle, or a low income group. The groups then eat different meals, and experience different situations, depending on which ticket they hold. Some people get a good meal, and some people end up with a lot less. It’s based on the luck of the draw, just like real life.”

People call the events “empowering,” even “life changing.” But Oxfam had a problem. After attendees left the events, Oxfam had no way to remain in contact. People might leave the Hunger Banquets deeply inspired  – but Oxfam couldn’t cultivate those relationships further.

Oxfam tried distributing paper signup forms to event organizers. However, the sign-up sheets added a major hurdle for organizers, including collecting and mailing them back, and often were neglected by attendees.

Oxfam wanted a way to turn their brief connection with attendees into a sustained relationship.

Solution: Integrating Text Messaging into the Fabric of the Events

Oxfam realized that by incorporating text messages into the events, they could make their events more interactive, and at the same time turn one-off engagements into lifelong connections.

When attendees arrive at the banquets, they are asked to draw a ticket, which describes a real person. For example, you could be Eni, a mother of 9 in Tanzania; you might be Ken, a struggling carpenter in the Republic of Vanuatu; or you could be Manu, the mayor of a Peruvian town.

Oxfam Emi

To learn more about their roles, attendees are asked to text the name of their characters to Oxfam’s short code of 97779. When attendees text in, they are asked for their full name and contact information.


The text messages give event attendees more insight into the life of the person on their ticket, and help educate them about the real-world struggles of people across the globe.

The texts also serve as a way for Oxfam to easily gather the contact information of everyone who attends the banquet. By ensuring that every event attendee registers with their name and email address, Oxfam makes it simple to follow up with them later.

At the end of the event, all attendees are asked to text in ACTNOW to learn more about Oxfam’s work, and how they can get involved.  And the next day, Oxfam texts the attendees with a follow up.


Results: Thousands of New Subscribers

Text messages were easy for the event organizers, easy for Oxfam – and most importantly, easy for the event attendees. As a result, thousands of people texted to join Oxfam’s list.

That gives Oxfam a wealth of new data. But most importantly, the thousands of people who are moved by their experience at the Oxfam Hunger Banquets now have a way to get involved even further, and Oxfam has started relationships that they can develop into the future.

To find out how you can host your own Oxfam Hunger Banquet, click here.

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