Stephen Cotterill: RNLI came out fighting against criticism of its international work

08 Oct 2019 In-depth

RNLI has led by example with strident response to criticism in the media.

Last month, the mainstream media swung its attention back on to charities with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution pushed into the limelight. Criticised in three weekend newspapers about its work overseas, toplines ranged from moderate annoyance to isolationist rage.

First, the Times published an article focusing on spending on RNLI’s international projects. This was followed by the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Sun highlighting RNLI’s projects to provide Tanzanian women and girls with burkini swimsuits and offer child crèches in Bangladesh.

The sector, and fundraising in particular, has grown accustomed to the six-monthly routine, whereby editors find a gap in the news cycle and rush to fill it with charity scandal. What was refreshing this time was that the RNLI came out swinging. It published a strong rebuttal, saying it was proud of its international programmes, which represent a very small proportion of total spending, and that it had not attempted to hide this activity.

In a tweet it said: “We are proud of our international work. Its saves (mostly kids’) lives. And we haven’t kept it secret – it’s in our annual report, on our website and in the media. We spend just 2 per cent of our expenditure on this work.”

The charity Twitter-sphere also showed defiance, denouncing the reports and pledging support to the charity. And the public appear to have responded similarly. Although the full impact on public donations is hard to gauge at this point, a spokesperson for RNLI said that the charity saw a sharp increase in online donations shortly after the stories hit the newsstands, “coupled with some very positive messages of support”.

This not the first time the RNLI has defended its corner either. Last year, it issued a lengthy statement following articles in the Daily Mail claiming it had treated volunteers unjustly, most memorably over pornographic images on mugs. The response claimed the articles were one-sided and exaggerated. Really? The Daily Mail? Shocking.

The RNLI does have its challenges, recently announcing cuts in staff due to a shortfall in income, but supporting its modestly-funded international programmes is not one of them.



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