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By The Drum, Editorial

June 13, 2024 | 5 min read

Taking Charity or Not for Profit Gold at The Drum Awards for Marketing EMEA 2024 is RNLI. Here is the award-winning case study.

The Problem: A Leaky Boat

Membership is crucial for charities like the RNLI. It creates supporter loyalty and financial security, funding lifeboat crew and lifeguard training, equipment, facilities, safety campaigns, and more. In 2023, RNLI membership was still bringing in millions and had provided the charity’s fundraising backbone for almost two centuries – in that time we’ve saved more than 146,000 lives. But the long-range forecast looked stormy. RNLI membership was now in decline.

As the RNLI neared its 200th anniversary in 2024, it was time for a relaunch to keep us afloat well into our third century.

Audience and Insight

Research into existing audiences showed that, to drive memberships, supporters needed to better understand the RNLI’s relevance to them, how it is a way to belong to the RNLI community, how it reflects their values, and how it supported the cause in a special way.

The Objectives: Relaunch and Rescue

The campaign’s objectives had three tiers:

  1. Acquire new members by refreshing our current membership proposition
  2. Increase the average gift to be on par with regular giving
  3. Retain new and existing members with an improved supporter journey

Strategy: The Sprint

This was about starting again with a whole new membership proposition and design language. We began with a ‘sprint’ to explore which territories could lead to successful propositions. This included the exploration of competitor analysis, audience insight, and understanding barriers to signing up.

Five days in one room led to three distinct routes with their own language, propositions, and design.

Testing the Territories

Qualitative research into the territories involved group work and paired depths of a baby boomer demographic (50–75 year olds, ABC1) with a cool relationship to the RNLI – aware and open to the charity, but with low-level support and engagement. Our ‘activist’ route was the overwhelming favorite. The thinking behind this route was how we could offer membership as demonstrating values. Someone who will not stand by and let people drown? How could we be true to our ‘to save every one’ charity vision – keeping people safe regardless of who they are and where they are from?

So the proposition was: As part of our crew, you can send more than a lifeboat – you can send courage and hope, as part of a force for good.

Creative Guidelines: A New Wave

With the preferred route secured, a creative brief was worked on by the RNLI Creative Services team, which included digital and print ads, the Welcome Pack, thank you communications, and a DRTV ad. To ensure consistency across all these materials, we created campaign guidelines.

Welcoming the New Crew

Competitor analysis showed how other charities were retaining their members with value exchange and experiences that bring people closer to the cause. Conservation and heritage organizations were delighting members with their welcome packs. We knew ours would need to include their first issue of Lifeboat magazine – a well-loved quarterly publication. But what else?

We decided that the old pack’s simple fold-out leaflet should be replaced with a comprehensive guide book, and as a ‘delighter’, postcards would be supplied. Along with a letter of gratitude, it was all presented in a fold-out box with incorporated design and messaging.

The Members’ Handbook

The RNLI doesn’t offer stately homes to visit, wildlife reserves, or free parking in beauty spots. But we do have open lifeboat stations, museums, shops, lifeguard patrols on beaches, and even a lifesaving training center where supporters can stay and eat.

They all offer a great way to get closer to the cause and the crew. So we created a handbook with regional maps and highlighted what each area has to offer. There’s also a 200-year heritage timeline, and a fold-out lifeboat spotters’ guide. It all added up to a beautiful, substantial guidebook and keepsake for new members.


For the first time ever, we created a TV ad to promote RNLI membership. It took the language and imagery of the adcept, positioning a force for good that you can be part of – and went on to take advantage of the real-life rescue footage we have and heritage imagery, as we went into our 200th year. It finished by reasserting the activist approach in the call to action: ‘... and together we will stand up and answer the call for help’.

Digital and Email Journey

Our website membership landing page was a destination from organic search and homepage, and was refreshed to reflect the campaign proposition – it led to an optimized web form which also formed the destination for email, social, DRTV, and PPC. Our first email promoting the new membership offering was broadcast in February 2024 as part of the 200 Birthday campaign.


The campaign launch period and beyond (September 2023 – February 2024) exceeded targets and represent a remarkable and rapid turnaround in the RNLI’s membership performance – helping to secure the RNLI’s future income and ensuring we can save more lives into our third century.

Ready to get your work recognized on a global stage? Enter The Drum Awards today. Need more inspiration, read our Award Winning Case Studies.

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