The RNLI said it experienced a "sharp increase in online donations" as part of a backlash against a critical article in The Mail on Sunday .
But it said the story, published over the weekend, had also led to negative responses, with some people cancelling their donations.
The newspaper published the article under the headline "RNLI buys burkinis for Africans as it axes 100 UK jobs".
It said the charity was "under fire" for increasing spending on overseas projects from £1.1m to £3.3m over the past five years while planning to shed 135 jobs in response to a fall of £7.2m in income in its 2018 accounts.
Nigel Evans, the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley and a member of the International Development Committee, told the newspaper it raised questions about the RNLI's priorities and risked damaging its reputation.
The article also quoted Andrew Bridgen, the Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, who said in a similar article that appeared over the weekend in The Times: "It is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, not the Royal International Lifeboat Institution."
The RNLI issued a statement saying that less than 2 per cent of its annual spending went on international drowning prevention activity.
It said it worked with local partners on water safety projects, and the burkini initiative in Tanzania helped Muslim women learn to swim without compromising their religious and cultural beliefs.
The statement added that all areas of the RNLI's work, including its international budget, were being assessed as part of its cost-reduction plans.
A spokesman for the RNLI told Third Sector the coverage had generated mixed consequences.
He said: "In response to the recent media pieces about the life-saving 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. 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 might be several weeks before we have a full understanding of its impact on donations to the RNLI."
Many people took to Twitter to pledge donations using the hashtag #RNLI_disgrace.
The journalist Caitlin Moran, who has 813,000 Twitter followers, said her timeline was "full of people donating to the RNLI in response to the mad hatchet-piece about them in Britain's most dolourous newspaper".
My timeline is now full of people donating to the RNLI, in response to the mad hatchet-piece about them in Britain's most dolourous newspaper. Nice to see the narrative reversed overnight by lovely people.— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) September 16, 2019
The actor David Schneider parodied the quote of Tory MP Bridgen to his 403,000 followers.
"What am I proudest of in my life? Probably trying to stop the RNLI spending 2% of its money on trying to prevent some of the 370,000 deaths by drowning around the world each year" - Andrew Bridgen MP and others pic.twitter.com/wPSjKmgAbr— David Schneider (@davidschneider) September 15, 2019
David Allen Green, a lawyer and writer, tweeted to his 178,000 followers:
In a few years we have gone from the jolly cheerfulness of Boaty McBoatface to press and social media attacks on RNLI just because they teach people how to swim not in UK— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) September 16, 2019
How mean a national mood can turn
And the academic and author Steve Peers told his 101,000 followers they could support the work of the RNLI and wind-up xenophobes by buying the RNLI's 2020 calendar.
Want to support the excellent work of the @RNLI, and wind up xenophobes who object to it spending 2% of its income saving people abroad from drowning? They sell lovely calendars...?? https://t.co/cnIt55ezKv— Steve Peers (@StevePeers) September 15, 2019