Brand Watch: RNLI

YouGov's Gavin Ellison looks at the profile of the lifeboat charity since last autumn

The charity's success lies in its relationship with local communities
The charity's success lies in its relationship with local communities

YouGov's CharityIndex questions a representative sample of 125 different people each day on subjects such as the charities they have talked about with friends and family and the charities they have heard of. The results are compiled to generate scores about the public's perception of an organisation.

As an island nation, the sea is a big part of British life and the RNLI is a highly valued charity across these Isles, increasing its income in 2012 at a time when many other organisations face problems with funding.

The first thing to note is how consistently high the RNLI's levels of public support are. Since last autumn, its Index Score, which measures overall brand health, has never fallen below +27 and has risen as high as +32. 

The charity has had two remarkably consistent spells of support in October to January and April to July, with a long-lasting spike in between.

The average Index Score is a very healthy +28.5. This elevated number reflects both the esteem in which the public places the RNLI but also is a nod to the unique work it does and how successful it is at communicating with the public.

The Buzz Scores, which show changes in sentiment based on whether people have heard anything positive or negative about the brand, have a similar pattern to the Index Score. A large part of this seems to be due to the constant level of local media coverage the RNLI receives.Barely a day goes past when the charity is not in the local news for a rescue, fundraising drive or the launch of a new vessel.

The RNLI is also savvy when it comes to providing content that can be shared easily. Its YouTube channel is refreshed regularly, and provides footage that is used as the basis of media stories for outlets such as the BBC News website and the Telegraph online. Both of these factors help explain why its Buzz Score is always positive despite the charity undertaking few big campaigns.

SOS sees spike

The RNLI enjoyed a furry of media coverage in late January 2013. On 22 January, it released its 2012 rescue figures for England, Scotland, and Wales. Immediately following this, the charity held its annual SOS fundraising day on 25 January, a day that enjoyed strong regional coverage, including big pieces of local coverage such as a large broadcast item on BBC Radio Solent. Following on from this, the Daily Mail ran a large article on a day in the life of a RNLI rescue crew. All of this activity is reflected in the charity’s Buzz Score, which rose in mid-to late January and remained high throughout February.

But how does this Buzz relate to people’s propensity to donate? The light blue line (measured on the left hand side of this graph) shows the Value Score – indicating people’s preparedness to give money to the charity. The green line (measured on the right-hand side) shows the Buzz Score.

What is evident is that the spike in brand health in January and February had a longer-lasting impact on the Value Score than it did on the Buzz Score. This is probably down to various SOS fundraising events that took place on a local level in the wake of the day itself. The second is that propensity to donate is consistently higher than the levels of brand sentiment. This could well have something to do with how the charity is generally received and also gives a good idea about the amount of funding the charity receives from legacy donations.

There is one curious anomaly in the RNLI's Value Score, which fell during the Christmas period. While still strongly positive, this festive fall-off in propensity to donate is perhaps because the RNLI is not a traditional 'Christmas' charity in the way that the Salvation Army, Shelter and Crisis are.

The CharityIndex figures show that men tend to have stronger support than women for the RNLI. This is best evidenced in the Impression Scores, which measures whether the charity supports a cause people believe in. Although both genders show high levels of support (women are always +30 and men are often +40), women had higher Impression Scores than men on only one occasion – in late April.


The RNLI's high profile and high levels of donations are the result of both the unique work it does and the way it communicates this work to the general public.

The charity does not go in for big, hard-hitting above-the-line campaigns. It doesn't have to. The media strategy it has adopted is often focused on talking to the local communities it serves about how the RNLI saves lives. 

The charity lets the heroic rescue stories tell themselves and by having a regularly-updated YouTube channel it can show the impact donations have, be they from fundraising drives or legacies.


Melanie Hide, the RNLI's head of communications, says: "We are pleased that Brand Watch has highlighted the work the RNLI does in raising awareness and communicating our stories to the public.

"The communities we serve will always be at the heart of our media strategy. However, we support this work with wider campaigns - we recently launched the Respect the Water campaign, supported by England rugby star James Haskell, targeting men between 25 and 65, who make up 80 per cent of UK drownings.

"We have also embraced social media and are running the #SaveWave campaign, asking people to donate tweets and Facebook posts to encourage others to share our rescue stories, creating 'waves of awareness'."

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