RNLI sees surge in donations amid social media backlash over overseas work

A shortfall of funds meant the charity had to shed 135 jobs in response to a fall of £7.2m in income in its 2018 accounts. (Getty)

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has seen a surge in donations following social media backlash after articles published in the Mail On Sunday and the Times highlighted that the charity spends £3.3 million on saving lives overseas.

A shortfall of funds meant the charity had to shed 135 jobs in response to a fall of £7.2m in income in its 2018 accounts.

But as the reports brought attention to the charity's spending on foreign projects increasing from £1.1m to £3.3m over the past five years.

Nigel Evans, a Conservative MP told the Mail On Sunday that it raised questions about the RNLI's priorities and risked damaging its reputation.

Andrew Bridgen, a Tory MP, told The Times: "It is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, not the Royal International Lifeboat Institution."

The attacks on the policy led to some donors tweeting that they would stop supporting the charity.

One Twitter user wrote: “If that's where my donations are going then it all stops now, I’m disgusted with this, I never gave for you to buy swim costumes for Africans, they have their own money.”

A shortfall of funds meant the charity had to shed 135 jobs in response to a fall of £7.2m in income in its 2018 accounts. (RNLI)

The organisation was forced to defend its work in Tanzania and Bangladesh on water safety projects which help Muslim women to swim without compromising their religious beliefs.

It stood by its international work that “saves (mostly kids’) lives” and said the amount spent overseas totalled just 2% of its expenditure and was public information.

“We currently spend less than 2% of the RNLI’s total annual expenditure on our international drowning prevention activity and we actively seek donations specifically for this work.”

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It also pointed out that its founder, Sir William Hillary, had the vision that we “should extend our views [of drowning prevention] from our own immediate coasts, to the most remote quarters of the globe, and to every neighbouring state”.

While many said they would retract support, the articles appeared to have had a galvanising effect on others, who took to Twitter to say they've been inspired to donate in support.

"What they do at home and abroad is heroic," said Twitter user Claire M. "This has spurred me on to donate."

Stephen Fry tweeted his criticism of the articles and urged people to donate. (Twitter)

Times writer Ben Machell - not the article's author - said: "Maybe people angry about this can 'offset' the fraction of their RNLI donations that goes to saving lives overseas by also donating to a fund that actively helps finance the drowning of foreign children? You can then sleep soundly. Easy."

“My monthly DD [direct debit] starts this month. You’ll come out of this stronger and more respected than ever.”

Stephen Fry wrote: “I gather #RNLI_disgrace shows the marvellous public response. We should all go to http://bit.ly/DonateRNLI to show our support (Christians surely will, drawing on the Good Samaritan parable)”

The RNLI thanked its supporters on Twitter. (Twitter)
While many said they would retract support, the articles appeared to have had a galvanising effect on others, who took to Twitter to say they've been inspired to donate in support. (Twitter)
Many took to Twitter to say they've been inspired to donate in support. (Twitter)

The RNLI tweeted: “Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support and made donations to us over the past 24 hours – we simply couldn’t save lives without our amazing supporters.”

An RNLI spokesman told Yahoo news: “In response to the recent media pieces about the lifesaving work we are doing overseas, we have been very encouraged to see a sharp increase in online donations, coupled with some very positive messages of support.

“But this is such a polarising issue, and we have also received some very negative responses, including people contacting our supporter care team requesting to withdraw or reduce their support for the charity.

“The volume of responses we have received on this matter is vast and ongoing – the overall picture is changing constantly at the moment, so it may be several weeks before we have a full understanding of its impact on donations to the RNLI.”