George III gave his patronage to and attended the Handel Festival concerts in 1784, with some 500 performers. This benefited the Society (as it had been called since 1780) by £6,000, and its first Royal Charter was granted in 1790. Its charitable work has unceasingly continued since its foundation. Archives, and a number of fine portraits now in its 18th century central London house, are viewable by appointment.
Over many years money was received from benefit concerts, and gifts and honorary subscriptions from members of the nobility and the general public. Dinners or 'Anniversary Festivals' were held, presided over by distinguished non-members, including Dickens, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Sullivan, and lrving.
These proceedings often included performances of Marches written for the Society, by Haydn and Weber amongst others. In 1824, at the age of 12, "Master Liszt (a youth from Hungary)" gave for the Society his first concert in England, and he played for it again in 1827. Mendelssohn and Moscheles extemporized for it, and in 1848 Berlioz responded (in French) to a toast. Dvorak accompanied two of his own songs in 1885. Over the years, most of those who attended became Honorary Subscribers or gave donations, as did members of the Royal Family, the firm of Broadwood, and Paganini, Meyerbeer, Liszt, and Clara Schumann. The Society of Female Musicians, launched in 1840, amalgamated with the RSM in 1866.
By the end of the 19th century it seemed prudent for a young musician to seek membership of the Society, to confirm status in the profession, and to be able to call for help if in grave need. (Only very limited support could by then be given to non-members.) But the post-war welfare state and insurance developments led to a decline in the Society's membership, and a renewed realisation that its aims had originally been for the relief of any musicians in serious distress, and not primarily for the protection of Members.
Changes in the policies were reinforced by its second Royal Charter (in 1987), so that the Society can now help stricken non-members, including students, with the same cautious generosity as its Members. This has resulted in recent years in the greater part of its annual charitable aid being given to non-members. In its early years, Members had to be based in central London. With the widening of its membership, the Society now reaches professional musicians and their dependants, and those active within the world of music, throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland, thanks to the careful initiatives of Members.
The Members now join the Society for altruistic reasons, and the annual subscription is therefore nominal at £5. The Society largely depends on its Members to advise it of any cases of distress which they feel able to bring forward for consideration, in strict confidence, by the Governors. Members elect the Court of Assistants, 48 in number, from whom come the 12 Governors who are the Society's executive committee.