U.K. charity reports donations spike despite backlash over international spending
One of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's lifeboats is seen in a promotion video (RNLI on YouTube)
Published Monday, September 16, 2019 11:52AM EDT
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a U.K. charity that was founded in 1824 and dedicated to saving lives at sea, has been forced to defend itself after a report alleging misuse of public funds for the charity’s international work.
The Daily Mail article alleges that the charity is “buying burkinis for Muslim women in Africa – while slashing more than 100 jobs in the U.K.,” and insinuates that the charity may be misleading the public on where their donations end up.
The charity cut 135 staff from its U.K. operation due to financial losses, according to the Huffington Post U.K.
The backlash was swift on Twitter, with users angry that a portion of their donations were being used for projects outside the U.K. -- the hashtag #RNLI_disgrace quickly appeared and began trending.
“If that’s where my donations are going then it all stops now,, im disgusted with this, I never gave for you to buy swim costumes for Africans, they have their own money,” said one Twitter user.
“It’s unacceptable,” another user wrote on Twitter. “We do not donate for this. You’re not an overseas organization. You’re British, Royal and National, it’s in your title.” The tweet goes on to accuse the hijab and burkini of being “medieval, male, patriarchal garb.”
The charity put out a statement in its own defence on Sunday, explaining how their international projects work – saying that “less than“ two per cent of their donation stream gets used on work outside the U.K., and this did not affect its domestic services.
“We greatly value our supporters and have not misled them,” the statement says. “The RNLI’s international work has been reported in detail in our annual reports.”
The first international project cited in the Daily Mail article is the Panje Project in Tanzania, that sends instructors to teach women “swim survival skills” in areas where drownings are exceptionally common, and the burkinis are “an innovative (and cheap) way of enabling girls in strict Muslim countries, to get into the water without compromising their cultural and religious beliefs,” the statement said.
The second is a program funding ‘creches,’ the British term for a nursery or daycare, in Bangladesh where “around 40 children a day” die from drowning.
“Children are most vulnerable to drowning between 9am and 1pm when parents must work to feed their families, and are unable to provide close supervision,” the statement explains. “Community-based creche facilities provide a safe environment for children… run by local women, these facilities provide a secure place away from open water for children to play and learn important skills.
The charity operates more than 238 lifeboat stations in the U.K. and Ireland and 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the U.K. and Channel Islands -- run mostly by volunteers and separate from the Coast Guard.
The charity estimates it has saved 142,700 lives at sea since its inception.
Alongside the negative backlash and calls to boycott the charity, support has poured in for the organization, as celebrities and members of the public alike denounce the Daily Mail coverage.
“I haven’t read whatever frothing filth the Daily Mail has vomited up this morning, but I gather #RNLI_disgrace shows the marvelous public response,” actor and comedian Stephen Fry tweeted Monday. “We should all go to [donation link] to show our support (Christians surely will, drawing on the Good Samaritan parable.”)
“I just donated,” wrote author Neil Gaiman. “It may make up for a few people who stopped donating because they think more people should die at sea.”
“We are proud supporters of #RNLI and the wonderful heroic work they do. Saving any life from drowning is to be applauded whether in the UK or elsewhere in the world. They are a superb advert for the UK internationally,” another user wrote.
In a concerted effort, Twitter users have flooded the hashtag #RNLI_disgrace with messages of support and pictures of their donation receipts – the charity told the Huffington Post U.K. on Monday that they had seen a “sharp increase” in donations despite the backlash.