RNLI: He’ll face…All we ask of you’ press insert

Exhibited by
Ian Ventham, corporate services director, RNLI.
June 19, 2010
Medium of Communication
Inserts, press advertising
Target Audience
Individuals, regular gift
Type of Charity
Public / society benefit
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Stained with the passage of time and perhaps more than a little carelessness, the face looking out at the reader from this single sheet insert has nevertheless lost nothing of its strength and power to impress. The simple direct proposition makes this one of the classic fundraising offers of all time. It has to be a bearded face. Though there are lifeboatwomen, tests prove only a rugged bearded male face will generate maximum response. And he has to look bedraggled, as if he’s just been washed in after cresting those 30 foot waves. Legend has it that in the studio, while these photographs of real lifeboatmen were being taken, unbeknown to them a wee chap with a bucket of cold water was waiting behind a screen. At a signal from the photographer he would toss the contents of his bucket over the startled coxswain. At that precise moment the photo was taken, because only then the image was right.

The result is a true fundraising classic from a great cause.

Creator / originator

The copywriter was Simon Risley and the art director was Barry Batchelor, at London advertising agency Brookes and Vernon.

Summary / objectives

The RNLI saves lives at sea by providing a 24-hour lifesaving service around the UK and Ireland. In 2007, RNLI lifeboats rescued more than 8,000 people, an average of 22 people per day. RNLI lifeguards patrol more than 70 beaches in the UK in peak season and help up to 10,000 people annually. RNLI is also involved in safety and prevention and aims to save lives each year by changing attitudes and behaviour among people who use the sea regularly.

The RNLI ‘He’ll face…’ insert aimed to recruit both new members and donors.


The insert was created to replace the ‘£5 buys him a pair of boots’ ad, which at the time was beginning to perform less well.

It was primarily designed for membership recruitment with donations as the secondary option. However, through the late 1990s and early 2000s the proportion of members to donors slowly changed, so that today more donors than members are recruited. The offer was also changed from a single gift ask to a request for a monthly gift (£15.00 to £3.00 per month.)

Influence / impact

Still running, in almost unchanged format in 2008. It is still the RNLI’s ‘banker’ (ie benchmark) for donations.


Unknown. Throughout the 1990s the insert was rigorously tested in a variety of media and with many offer and copy variations, but it always reverted to the simple proposition illustrated here. This is one banker advertisement that over two decades has proved impossible to beat.


In the early days this series of recruitment devices worked at an operating profit. Every £1 spent brought in about £1.20. This slowly changed and by the mid 1990s, the best that could be achieved was to breakeven. The insert now incurs a recruitment cost, but over the average 10 to 12 year life of a member or donor remains a highly cost-effective way of recruiting new supporters in large volumes.


  1. The insert challenges the donor to respond and doesn't merely ask.
  2. The image is all-important. The face of a real coxswain personifies the core values of the RNLI. Experiments with different faces produced alarming variations in results. The face has to reflect bravery, reliability and trustworthiness.
  3. The ask is achievable.
  4. It tells a (timeless) story.
  5. The insert offers the donor an association with traditional values that are largely lost today and sorely missed by some, often older, people, who also happen to be very good donors and even legacy prospects.
View original image
The single-sided black and white RNLI insert from some time in the early 1990s. Below, a later version. Though printed front and back, converted to metric and the price has gone up a bit, it’s barely changed in its essentials.
View original image
A later version. Though printed front and back, converted to metric and the price has gone up a bit, it’s barely changed in its essentials.