1891: First street collection

After the Mexico disaster and the loss of 27 lifeboatmen, a small team organised an event in Manchester that changed the face of fundraising forever.
The world's first street collection , for the RNLI, in Manchester, 1891.
The world’s first street collection for the RNLI, in Manchester, 1891.

In 1891, a local wealthy industrialist Sir Charles Macara answered the RNLI’s call for help, following a lifeboat disaster.

Five years earlier, 27 men from Southport and St Anne’s died while trying to rescue sailors from the stricken vessel Mexico.

The RNLI asked for funds and Sir Charles responded in style.

He was so concerned for the widows and children of the volunteers lost that he decided to organise a collection for them. Instead of asking wealthy philanthropists for money, he appealed to the man on the street.

Charles and his wife Marion got a committee together and organised the first Lifeboat Saturday in aid of the appeal. It was the world’s first charity street collection ever recorded, and the formula proved popular for decades to come.

Sir Charles Macara, an inspired fundraiser who organised the first Lifeboat Saturday.
Sir Charles Macara, an inspired fundraiser who organised the first Lifeboat Saturday

Small change, big hearts

On the first Lifeboat Saturday on 1 October 1891, bands, floats and lifeboats paraded through the streets of Manchester, followed by volunteers with buckets and purses on poles.

Thousands of ordinary people flocked to the city’s streets to catch a glimpse of something they had never seen before: lifeboat crew members and their lifesaving craft. They were lifeboats from Southport and Lytham St Anne’s.

The Life-boat Journal at the time praised the organisers:

‘This grand effort … was promoted and admirably carried out by an influential and energetic Committee specially formed for the purpose and presided over by Mr. CHARLES W. MACARA, Chairman of the St. Anne's Branch of the Institution, a gentleman of extraordinary energy and resource.’

It was a popular event and thousands of local people were moved to give generously. They donated over £5,000 to the charity that day.

Fundraising of the future

Sir Charles Macara, an inspired fundraiser who organised the first Lifeboat Saturday.
Sir Charles Macara, an inspired fundraiser who organised the first Lifeboat Saturday

Following the success of the street collection, Sir Charles looked into the finances of the RNLI and realised that it relied heavily on the wealthy few. So he resolved to take RNLI fundraising to the people on the street.

In the following years, Lifeboat Saturdays became annual events in Manchester and the movement spread to other towns and cities. This laid the foundations of the charity’s voluntary fundraising as we know it.

Marion Macara didn’t rest on her laurels either. Following the first Lifeboat Saturday she formed a Ladies’ Guild to help organise the street collection and within 10 years, more than 40 ladies’ guilds had sprung up around the UK and Ireland, and the RNLI’s income had doubled.

Lifeboat Saturday catches on - Lifeboat Day with the Dublin Ladies in 1901
Lifeboat Saturday catches on - Lifeboat Day with the Dublin Ladies’ Guild in 1901