Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

How We Operate: Q&A

About the MS Society of Canada and its affiliated MS Scientific Research Foundation

Who founded the MS Society of Canada?

A small group of dedicated volunteers in Montreal founded the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada in 1948 after contact with the newly established National MS Society (USA). The individuals that played a key role in founding the MS Society of Canada are Evelyn Opal, a mother diagnosed with MS at age 23, and Harry Bell, an engineer with MS. Opal and Bell’s biographies are available on our website under About Us / History.

Two publications are also available on our website outlining the history of the MS Society of Canada:

What is the legal status of the MS Society of Canada?

The MS Society is a complex organization made of several separately-incorporated entities. Irrespective of our legal status, we operate as one single organization that works toward the same mission, embraces the same values and is driven by the same vision and strategic plan.

The MS Society of Canada is a not-for-profit corporation incorporated under the laws of Canada. The MS Society is a registered charity under the Income Tax Act (Canada). The MS Society of Canada comprises of six divisions, which are Alberta and the Northwest Territories, the Atlantic Provinces, British Columbia and Yukon, Manitoba, Ontario and Nunavut, and Saskatchewan, and more than 85 Chapters within the their divisional boundaries.

Due to provincial government requirements, the MS Society of Canada Quebec Division and a number of Chapters in Quebec are separately incorporated not-for-profit charities.

In addition, the MS Scientific Research Foundation is also incorporated as a separate charitable organization.

What is the relationship between the MS Society of Canada and the MS Scientific Research Foundation?

The MS Society is a registered charity founded in 1948, and registered charities typically spend most or all of what they raise in the same year. Registered charities usually cannot accumulate funds year over year. The MS Society maintains a responsible reserve to ensure that it has enough cash on hand to meet expenses, but otherwise does not significantly accumulate funds from year to year.

Founded in 1973, the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF) is a charitable organization that was granted permission by the Canada Revenue Agency to accumulate and invest funds received, and provide grants over multiple years.

The MSSRF funds large, collaborative, multi-center and cross-disciplinary MS research that is outside the scope of the regular research program of the MS Society and address some of the most complex and difficult questions related to MS. The foundation encourages projects where significant collaboration of scientists from more than one institution and more than one discipline will produce better MS treatments and discoveries. Examples of such research are the MSSRF’s recently announced stem cell trial, research into progressive MS, and the ongoing investigation of pediatric MS.

The MS Scientific Research Foundation is a catalyst for major philanthropic support of MS research. As champions of MS research, MSSRF directors play a role in stimulating philanthropic support for MS research, and include a number of the most generous individual and corporate donors to MS research in Canada. From its inception, the MSSRF has had a close and productive relationship with the MS Society of Canada.

Our commitment to financial transparency

What is the MS Society’s purpose?

When you donate to the MS Society, you’re investing in an organization whose purpose is to end MS and improve the quality of life for those who live with the disease. The MS Society is dedicated to funding research, government advocacy, financial support and programs and services that empower Canadians affected by multiple sclerosis.

What steps does the MS Society take to ensure financial transparency?

Financial transparency is very important to us. We have taken the following steps to ensure financial transparency.

  • The annual MS Society Impact Report highlights our achievements in serving people who live with MS and advancements to finding a cure for the disease. Available here.
  • Our audited financial statements for the last 5 years are available on our website here.
  • A link to the MS Society of Canada CRA’s T3010 form is available here (it does not include MS Society of Canada Quebec Division, the 17 Quebec Chapters or the MS Scientific Research Foundation who are separate legal entities and submit their own T3010 as required by law.)
  • We provide an overview of our impact and operations including our cost of fundraising, administrative costs, expenditures in our mission, executive and staff compensation and government funding. The summary is available here.

Why are the numbers in the MS Society’s combined audited financial statement different from what is reported on the annual charity information return (T3010) filed with the Canada Revenue Agency?

The MS Society is a complex organization made of several separately-incorporated entities. Irrespective of our legal status, we operate as one single organization that works toward the same mission, embraces the same values and is driven by the same vision and strategic plan.

The MS Society of Canada comprises of six divisions, which are Alberta and the Northwest Territories, the Atlantic Provinces, British Columbia and Yukon, Manitoba, Ontario and Nunavut, and Saskatchewan, and more than 85 Chapters within the their divisional boundaries. Due to provincial government requirements, the MS Society of Canada Quebec Division and a number of Chapters in Quebec are separately incorporated not-for-profit charities. In addition, the MS Scientific Research Foundation is also incorporated as a separate charitable organization.

The MS Society prepares annually combined financial statements that represent the assets, liabilities, net assets and operations of the MS Society, its divisions and their chapters, the MS of Canada (Quebec Division) and the 17 incorporated Quebec Chapters (Abitibi-Temiscamingue Chapter, Banlieue West Chapter, Bas-Saint-Laurent Chapter, Centre of Quebec Chapter, Chaudiere-Appalache Chapter, Cote-Nord Chapter, Lac-St-Jean Chapter, Lanaudiere Chapter, Laurentides Chapter, Laval Chapter, Manicouagan Chapter, Mauricie Chapter, Monteregie Chapter, Montreal Chapter, Outaouais Chapter, Montreal East Chapter, Region of Quebec Chapter and Therese-de-Blainville/Basses-Laurentides Chapter). Our audited financial statements offer a comprehensive picture of our financial revenue and expenditures, to which one would have to add the research investments made by the MS Scientific Research Foundation.

As required by law, CRA annual charity information return (T3010) are submitted separately for each incorporated legal entity. The link on our website reflects only the MS Society of Canada and not those of the MS Society of Canada Quebec Division, the Quebec Chapters or the MS Scientific Research Foundation. All these tax filings are available to the public on the CRA website.

Moreover, the annual charity information return requires a different categorization for funds than standard audit reporting; expenses are often split over multiple categories, or need to be reported in several different lines. For instance, our research expenditures in a given year may be included with other expenses on multiple lines on the T3010 information return, including ‘Research grants and scholarships’, ‘Gifts to qualified donees’, and general charitable programming expenditures.

How we raise money

How does the MS Society raise funds?

The MS Society has always relied on a wide-spread network of volunteers and community involvement for its fundraising success. Our fundraising relies on many small gifts from many donors through a variety of fundraising programs. Over 50% of our fundraising comes from community-driven activities, including participatory events like Walks, Bikes, and direct marketing. These are relatively expensive forms of fundraising that can involve event site management and participant safety, but engage a wide base of supporters, who are critical to the MS cause.

Costs to fundraise vary by program, and we continue to ensure that we have a diverse, healthy fundraising portfolio that will continue to sustain our research program, advocacy work, and programs and services. Fundraising costs include things like mailing tax receipts, event security and paying for the use of event sites. If we decided to eliminate fundraising events that have higher expense factors, we would be reducing our ability to have funds available to help those affected by MS.

The MS Society has been – and continues to be – focused on reducing costs in fundraising and also raises money through lower-cost programs, such as major gift campaigns, third-party events, and bequests, and encourages our donors to assist us in reducing the cost of fundraising by giving online, for example. Without a large base of dedicated supporters, the MS Society would not be able to make the significant annual investments in research and programs that it does.

How much money does the MS Society receive from the government?

Last year we received three per cent of our funding from the government. As governments change with each election, it is often difficult to rely on government funding as a predictable source of revenue. We engage with our governments through important advocacy work that continues to improve quality of life for Canadians with MS and their loved ones.

Statistics Canada has reported that of all health sector non-profit revenues, 70 per cent comes from the government. We consistently apply for government funding and while we have been successful with some applications, governments have chosen to allocate their dollars elsewhere.

How much money does the MS Society receive from the pharmaceutical industry?

The MS Society's total revenue from pharmaceutical companies is less than two per cent of the amount of money the organization receives annually.

Any pharmaceutical funding received by the MS Society of Canada is subject to the MS Society’s strict policies that prevent any control or influence by the donor on our decision-making. This is consistent with the ethical principles of Canada’s research-based pharmaceutical companies which require that they assure the independence and integrity of stakeholders, in terms of their operations, policies and activities.

Examples of supports and services that we are able to offer because of funding from pharmaceutical companies include national educational events and national publications such as “A Guide to Employment and Income Supports” and “Mighty Special Kids: A workbook for kids living with MS”.

Why did the MS Society partner with A&W Canada?

Our seven-year partnership with A&W Canada is something we are proud of, because of the significant ways it has allowed us to help Canadians with multiple sclerosis. The partnership, born out of the Cruisin’ to End MS campaign, has funded research that is bringing us closer to a cure and programs and services that help people live better lives until a cure is found. We have been able to raise $8 million, cross-country awareness of the disease, and a whole network of support so that people who live with MS know they are not alone in their experiences. We are proud of these accomplishments, because they embody our ultimate goal—to find a cure for MS and enable people affected by the disease to enhance their quality of life.

Because of this partnership, we were also able to celebrate an additional $1 million donation from A&W to the groundbreaking MEsenchymal Stem cell therapy for CAnadian MS patients (MESCAMS) announced earlier this year. MESCAMS, the first trial of its kind in Canada, has the potential to reduce harmful inflammation in the brain and repair nerve tissue—very important elements for treating all forms of MS.

Our partnership is not only with A&W Canada, but it is also with their customers and dedicated staff, many of whom have personal connections to MS. Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world, and awareness of the disease is vital to mobilizing financial and emotional support for the people we serve. Our partnership with A&W allows us to create more awareness of Canada’s disease than we could on our own.

How the money raised is being spent

How much does the MS Society spend on research and programs, and services?

In 2014 we invested the following amounts in our mission:

  • $11 million in Canadian MS research – research grants, scholarships, fellowships, the endMS Research & Training Network, new research funding into the relationship between CCSVI and MS, and investments through the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation
  • $9 million in programs and services – including education programs, self-help groups, recreational and social programs, information and referral services, financial support for daily living or equipment need
  • $6 million in public education and awareness – awareness campaigns, newsletters
  • $4 million in chapter and volunteer support and development – volunteer recruitment and training, chapter support from division and national offices
  • $2 million in government and community relations – educating all levels of government about needed changes to benefit Canadians living with MS and assistance to clients dealing with local transit and accessibility issues.

How much do you invest in programs and services relative to research?

In 2014, we invested $9 million in programs and services that directly support people living with MS. This investment includes things like education programs, self-help groups, recreational and social programs, information and referral services, and financial support for daily living or equipment needs. We also invested $2 million in government and community relations, which includes educating government about changes needed to benefit Canadians living with MS, and assistance for people dealing with local transit and accessibility issues. In 2014, $11 million was spent on research investments. This includes research expenditures of the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation.

How much do you spend on research in relation to programs, services and other expenditures?

This is a detailed account of the expenditures of the MS Society in 2014 as well as cumulatively from 2010 to 2014 (dollar amounts and percentages)

MS Society & MS Scientific Research Foundation Combined Expenditures for 2014
Annual Expenditure Percentage of annual expenditure
Research $11 million 18.8%
Programs, Services & Advocacy* $21 million 35.8%
Administration $3.6 million 6.1%
Fundraising $23 million 39.2%
TOTAL $58.6 million 100%

*Programs, Services & Advocacy includes programs & services (previously known as client services), public education and awareness, chapter and volunteer support and development, government and community relations, and MS Clinic funding. These programs help Canadians with MS live the best lives they can until a cure is found.

MS Society & MS Scientific Research Foundation Combined Expenditures: 2010 to 2014
Cumulative Expenditures Percentage expenditures
Research $55.9 million 18.1%
Programs, Services & Advocacy* $112.3 million 36.3%
Administration $20 million 6.5%
Fundraising $120.8 million 39.1%
TOTAL $309 million 100%

*Programs, Services & Advocacy includes programs & services (previously known as client services), public education and awareness, chapter and volunteer support and development, government and community relations, and MS Clinic funding. These programs help Canadians with MS live the best lives they can until a cure is found.

When you report on research expenditures of the MS Society and the MS Scientific Research Foundation, aren't you 'double-counting' funds from the Foundation and the Society?

No. Funds directed to the MS Scientific Research Foundation are transferred from the MS Society to the MSSRF in the year they are raised (see “Payable to Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation” under Liabilities on page 5 and “Research – endMS Campaigns” on page 6 of the MS Society of Canada’s 2014 Audited Financial Statements). These transferred amounts are not included in the research expenditures reported by the MS Society (see “Research” under Programs and Administrative Expenditures on page 6 of the MS Society of Canada’s 2014 Audited Financial Statements). The annual research expenditures of the MSSRF may be separately viewed in the foundation’s charity tax filing on the CRA website.

Both the MS Society of Canada and the MSSRF are audited on an annual basis; the audited financial statements take into account and clearly report the inter-connections between the two charities and outline the specific amounts transferred.

These are percentages of expenditure – what about percentage of revenue or ‘dollars raised’?

It would be inaccurate to calculate the research expenditures against annual MS Society revenue. The MS Society and the MS Scientific Research Foundation fund research projects that can span multiple years, and sometimes funds are expended in a different year from the year it was raised. Reporting on our expenditures is a more accurate representation of how donor dollars are allocated.

Salary expenditures

How can I find out more about MS Society salaries?

Salaries of our employees are related to the activities that are central to the work we do. Staff deliver our research and wellness programs, information and referral services, and education sessions for people affected by MS. Staff also play a critical role in advocating for policy changes by governments and in the healthcare system that would better support people affected by MS. We also have staff that raise funds to underwrite the delivery of our programs, services and research activity.

Salaries are based on the skill, experience and education necessary to advance our work. We ensure our wages are competitive with those offered by other charities to secure the talent to carry out our mission – to improve the quality of life of Canadians with MS and search for a cure for the disease.

We engage a large number of volunteers and they are vital to our work every day. Staff also manage our thriving volunteer program.

How are salaries determined at the MS Society?

We ensure our wages are competitive so that we may secure the best talent and leadership possible to carry out our mission – to help Canadians with MS and search for a cure for the disease.

Our compensation practices are informed by a compensation strategy that is approved by our volunteer board of directors. Salaries are based on the skill, experience and education necessary to advance our work. We ensure our wages are competitive with those offered by other charities to secure the talent to carry out our mission – to improve the quality of life of Canadians with MS and search for a cure for the disease.

For more information on this, visit the impact and operations section of our website.

Why doesn't the MS Society disclose the salaries of its employees?

The MS Society of Canada adheres to the reporting requirements established by the Canada Revenue Agency. To ensure transparency, we disclose the compensation ranges of the 10 highest paid employees at our organization. Our approach is in line with Canada’s other top charities and takes a balanced approach between privacy for our employees and transparency for our donors. We also disclose the total amount spent on salaries across the organization. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible, while still protecting the privacy rights of our valued employees.

Administrative expenditures

What are the administrative costs of the MS Society?

In 2014, MS Society’s cost of administration was 6 per cent. Administration costs represent the percentage of our revenue stewarded toward good organizational governance and management practices. Administration costs include investments in financial systems, technology, telecommunications and real estate. We are also proud to operate in Canada’s two official languages, English and French, for which we invest in text translation and content adaptation.

Does the MS Society pay for legal services?

The MS Society does pay for legal services. Legal counsel is selected through a comprehensive, competitive selection process that takes into account a number of important factors like the required expertise as well as the fees charged.

Fundraising expenditures

What is your cost of fundraising?

In 2014, our overall cost of fundraising was 40 per cent. This represents the percentage of our revenue stewarded toward initiatives that raise funds for the organization, such as events, direct mail, major gifts and other similar types of fundraising initiatives.

It’s helpful to know our fundraising cost ratio, but the measurement is limited. Cost of fundraising measures the amount of money we invest in raising funds for the organization – it does not measure our overall efficiency or effectiveness. Transparency and responsible stewardship of funds raised are also critical when assessing a charity’s fundraising practices.

The MS Society relies on many small gifts from many donors through a variety of fundraising programs. Costs to fundraise vary by program, and we continue to ensure that we have a diverse, healthy fundraising portfolio that will continue to sustain our research program, advocacy work, and programs and services.

Fundraising costs include things like postage, event security and event sites.

More information available here.

How does the MS Society explain its cost of fundraising?

The MS Society has always relied on a wide-spread network of volunteers and community involvement for its fundraising success. Our fundraising relies on many small gifts from many donors through a variety of fundraising programs. Over 50% of our fundraising comes from community-driven activities, including participatory events like Walks, Bikes, and direct marketing. These are relatively expensive forms of fundraising that can involve event site management and participant safety, but engage a wide base of supporters, who are critical to the MS cause.

The MS Society has been – and continues to be – focused on reducing costs in fundraising and also raises money through lower-cost programs, such as major gift campaigns, third-party events, and bequests, and encourages our donors to assist us in reducing the cost of fundraising by giving online, for example. Without a large base of dedicated supporters, the MS Society would not be able to make the significant annual investments in research and programs that it does.

What does the Money Sense charity grade mean? What is the MS Society doing to improve this grade?

The Money Sense fundraising efficiency grade is based on the ratio of revenue versus expenditures from the T3010 form. In general, the analysis does not take into account whether a charity receives government funding or has earned income. For example, a university will get a significant amount of its revenue from the government. Universities also charge tuition fees (commercial income). For organizations that rely on earned income and government income, the cost of fundraising will be low. Such organizations do not need to incur certain fundraising expenses to generate the dollars necessary to support the clients that they serve.

Health charities like the MS Society do not charge for their services, and therefore cannot realize commercial income. Only 3% of our revenue comes from government funding. With virtually no government funding, comparatively low bequest revenue and no commercial income – sources of revenue that significantly lower the costs of fundraising for other charities – the MS Society relies on many small gifts from many donors through a variety of fundraising programs. Costs to fundraise vary by program, and we continue to ensure that we have a diverse, healthy fundraising portfolio that will continue to sustain our research program, advocacy work, and programs and services. Fundraising costs include things like mailing tax receipts, event security and paying for the use of event sites. If we decided to eliminate fundraising events that have higher expense factors, we would be reducing our ability to have funds available to help those affected by MS.

Transparency and responsible stewardship of funds raised are also critical when assessing a charity’s fundraising practices. Our governance and transparency grade from Money Sense has increased to A+ in 2015. In addition, the cost of fundraising and administrative costs of the MS Society of Canada have been declining year over year.

Are all fundraising events accessible to people with MS?

We raise funds through a variety of activities, such as events, direct mail, major gifts and other initiatives. Our grassroots events such as MS Walk engage tens of thousands of participants, including many who live with MS, or have a personal connection to the disease.

Other matters

What is the Medical Advisory Committee?

The Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) is a committee of volunteers that provides advice to the MS Society of Canada and the MS Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF) with respect to policies and priorities as they relate to MS research and clinical care. The MAC receives the recommendations of its appointed grants review committees and panels, and amends or confirms them before presentation to the MS Society and MSSRF boards of directors.

Who sits on the MS Society's Medical Advisory Committee? Is it all neurologists?

The Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) is made up of clinicians and scientists actively involved with MS-related research and/or clinical care, two persons affected by multiple sclerosis representing the MS Society’s main stakeholders and at least one internationally recognized MS researcher and/or clinician. The chair of the board of the MS Society of Canada, a person directly affected by MS, is an ex-officio member of the MAC. Currently the MAC includes neurologists, researchers epidemiologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists, neuropathologists, and pediatric neurologists.