The RNLI provides a 24-hour on-call service to save lives at sea through more than 230 lifeboat stations throughout the UK and Ireland.
The service costs about £327,000 a day to run, and the charity depends on voluntary contributions and legacies for its income.
Summer 2005 saw a record number of rescues by the RNLI, but fundraising, donations and legacies had not been keeping pace with the unprecedented demand for services. In response, the charity launched a direct marketing appeal with the aim of raising £1m.
HOW IT WORKED
Proximity London developed an appeal pack to send to more than 900,000 UK households. It focused on the lifeboat statistics from the summer and highlighted the need to replace vital equipment used by volunteer crews.
Tailored letters were sent to the different donor types - existing donors, cold prospective donors and lapsed givers, in a bid to lure them back.
The campaign also tested various combinations of approach based on previous results and recent data analysis. Cold audiences were selected using various profiling tools, including demographics and lifestyle.
The two-page letter from David Brann, fundraising director at the RNLI, was headlined "Why we desperately need your help this Christmas", and emphasised the fact that the charity receives no government funding.
He added: "This means that donations are no longer meeting the cost of running the lifeboat service."
The mailing had a picture of a crew member with the words: "He's ready to save lives in 2006. Please make sure his kit is too."
The pack included a leaflet showing battered kit and the words: "As you can see, it's been a busy year."
Costs mentioned in the appeal included a lifejacket for £500, waterproof trousers for £200 and gloves costing £16.
The campaign raised more than £1.7m, with donations still coming in, and has proved itself to be the most successful direct marketing appeal in the charity's history. It exceeded the income target by more than 70 per cent.
Amanda Mitchell, supporter marketing manager at the charity, said: "This appeal represents a significant advance in communicating the RNLI cause."
EXPERT VIEW - Simon Robinson, creative director, Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw
In the bleak midwinter, some brave souls risk their lives at sea to save others. They are the quiet heroes who crew the lifeboats around the shores of the UK and Ireland.
These people give their time for free, but their equipment costs a lot of money. It would: lifeboatmen and women obviously need the best and most modern kit.
So while you're sitting at home, all cosy and wrapped up, spare a thought - and some money - for those who keep the lifeboats going.
I have to declare a personal interest here. The RNLI is one of my favourite causes, so I am always interested in its communications. This Christmas appeal seems a little old-fashioned, but so is the RNLI's supporter base - so that's all right.
Some of the Photoshop work isn't the best, and the copy is a little lumpy, but its heart is in the right place. And it raised an enormous amount of money, which is what really matters in the end. My only quibble is that the real meat is hidden in the postscript to the letter - last summer was the RNLI's busiest ever, but income has not kept pace with demand. Couldn't the appeal have started with that?