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How the RNLI rescued its reputation

You may have read in the news recently that some donors to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) cancelled their donations because 2% of funds are supporting causes in other countries, while jobs were being cut in the UK.

The support aboard includes the Creches for Bangladesh programme, and the Panje Project which teaches women swim survival skills in Zanzibar

The story received national media attention for the wrong reasons but, in a remarkable reputational rescue, the RNLI is now reporting a “sharp increase in online donations” [source] and thousands of people have taken to social media to share their support.

The RNLI released a statement to address the issues, providing us with an excellent example of how to act in a crisis. They stated their position clearly:

“Providing the very best search and rescue service in the UK and Ireland remains our priority but we are also proud to use our expertise, knowledge and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly in countries where drowning rates are high.”

You can read the full statement here.

Here are five things we can learn from the RNLI’s handling of the situation:

1. Address the issue directly

The RNLI took a direct approach to the issue, tagging the media outlets in question on Twitter and mentioning them on Facebook. They did not skirt around the issue, but ensured that the ‘culprits’ could see their response.

In many situations, you shouldn’t shy away from the reputational issue, but approach it head-on in a professional and considered manner.

2. Be transparent and honest

In their statement, the RNLI was completely transparent about every aspect of their work, giving facts and figures to support their statement.

Think about the tone of your statement, and make sure it’s to the point and factual, but not aggressive. Be transparent and back up what you’re saying with facts and stats, if you can.

3. Think about the different platforms

A tweet was shared with the key facts (see above) and a link to the full statement. A longer post was shared on Facebook, again with a link to their full statement. Nothing was posted on Instagram, as it’s a channel that doesn’t lend itself to long text posts.

The RNLI clearly thought about their different channels of communication, which would work, and how to ensure their posts were tailored to each account. One size does not fit all with social media channels.

4. Don’t apologise (unless you’ve actually done something wrong)

The RNLI has not apologised for their actions – and why should they? In their opinion, their actions are entirely justified and honest, and they have not done anything wrong.

Apologising admits a wrongdoing, so if you find yourself facing a reputational issue or crisis, do so sparingly.

But of course, if your issue relates to an error your company or employees have made, or an action that is your fault, then a genuine apology should be issued.

5. Thank your supporters

The RNLI recognised that its greatest asset was the thousands, if not millions of people who support what they do. On social media, they have been busy replying to individual users and posting messages of thanks to those who have expressed their support.

These third-party endorsements – other people saying you’re doing great work, rather than you saying it yourself – are gold dust, particularly in crisis situations. A plan for maximising these should be an important part of your crisis communications.


If you’re looking for crisis communications support, we’d be happy to help. Find out more here and get in touch if you’d like to discuss your issue with one of our experienced team.