Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

How We Operate: Q&A

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

About 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 people who 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 outline the history of the MS Society of Canada:


The MS Society is an organization made of several separately incorporated entities, but 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. We are a not-for-profit corporation incorporated under the laws of Canada.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is a registered charity under the Income Tax Act (Canada). It 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 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 MS Scientific Research Foundation?

The MS Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF) is the largest fund in the world dedicated strictly to MS research. The MSSRF is an affiliate of the MS Society that was established to support innovative MS research that extends beyond the scope of the MS Society’s regular granting program. Founded in 1973, the 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. Registered charities usually cannot accumulate funds year over year.

The MSSRF focuses on high-impact research and encourages collaboration between researchers and academic and health institutions to best leverage resources. The MSSRF is a legal entity separate from the MS Society of Canada; therefore, we are legally obligated to generate separate financial statements and file a separate charity information return (T3010) with the Canada Revenue Agency. The Foundation’s T3010 is available on the CRA website.

Our commitment to financial transparency

What does the MS Society do?

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 services that empower Canadians affected by multiple sclerosis.

How can I find out more about the MS Society’s financial operations?

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.
  • The audited financial statements for the MS Society as a whole, for the last five years are available on our website here.
  • 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 which 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.


What is the difference between the MS Society’s combined audited financial statement and the annual charity information return (T3010) filed with the Canada Revenue Agency?

The combined audited financial statements provide a record of the financial activities of a group of MS Society legal entities: MS Society of Canada, its Quebec Division and 17 chapters in Quebec. The T3010 return, which is required by law to be filed by each charity, is for the MS Society of Canada only as a distinct legal entity.

The MS Society is a complex organization made of several separately incorporated registered charities: Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (comprised of six divisions and more than 85 chapters within their divisional boundaries), MS Society of Canada Quebec Division (registered as Société canadienne de la sclérose en plaques Division du Québec), a number of chapters in Quebec (registered under various names) and the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation.

The MS Society operates 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’s combined financial statements posted on our website represent the assets, liabilities, net assets and operations of several legal entities: the MS Society of Canada, its divisions and their chapters, the MS Society of Canada, Quebec Division and the incorporated Quebec chapters. Our annual 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.

Canada Revenue Agency requires that each registered charity submit an annual charity information return (T3010). The link on our website reflects only the MS Society of Canada and not the returns 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 here. 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.

How we raise money

How does the MS Society raise funds?

The MS Society relies on a widespread 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. More than 50 per cent of our fundraising comes from community-driven activities, events like MS Walk, and MS Bike, and direct marketing.

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. 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. Read more about our cost of fundraising below.

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

Last year we received two 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 the quality of life for Canadians with MS and their loved ones.

Who are some of the MS Society’s corporate partners?

We have proudly partnered with several Canadian organizations who help us in our mission to end MS and improve quality of life for people living with the disease.

Our MS Walk and MS Bike events are sponsored by several organizations on a local level. Event sponsorship allows us to lower our cost of fundraising, as corporate sponsors pay for event costs such as site rentals fees and more.

We also receive some funding from the pharmaceutical industry. The MS Society's total revenue from pharmaceutical companies is one per cent of the amount of money the organization receives annually. Any pharmaceutical funding received by the MS Society of Canada is subject to strict policies that prevent any control or influence by the donor on our decision-making. An example of supports and services that we are able to offer because of funding from pharmaceutical companies include national educational events.

We have also partnered with A&W Canada for eight years as part of Burgers to Beat MS, formerly known as A&W Cruisin’ for a Cause. Our partnership with A&W Canada has allowed us to raise nearly $10 million for Canadian MS research. Conducting research is expensive, and it requires millions of dollars of funding to quickly address urgent needs for people living with MS, such as a treatment for progressive MS and ultimately a cure for the disease. We could not fund as much research as we do without our partnership with A&W. 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 in 2015.

How the money raised is being spent

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

In 2015 we raised more than $55 million through a diverse fundraising portfolio of events, major gifts and other fundraising initiatives. That same year we invested in the following programs:

$16 million in Canadian MS research – research grants, scholarships, fellowships, 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 needs

$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 people affected by MS

How are your research expenditures broken down?

MS Society research expenditures for 2015 are:

MS Society expenditures – research grants and awards ($6,403,723)

Our research grants and awards make up the MS Society’s staple research funding program, which supports research in cause and risk factors, progression and therapies, nerve damage and repair, and symptom management and quality of life therapies. We also support researchers at various academic and clinical stages through our fellowship awards, as cultivating and retaining interest among researchers in the field is critical to ensuring MS research in Canada remains strong for the future.

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).

Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation (MSSRF) – $4,636,971 (grants)

The MSSRF is an affiliate of the MS Society that was established to support innovative MS research that extends beyond the scope of the MS Society’s regular granting program. The MSSRF funds large-scale, multi-site, collaborative research studies based on available funds; expenditures for collaborative grants will fluctuate year over year as some grants end and others are initiated.

The MSSRF focuses on high-impact research with translational potential and encourages collaboration between researchers and academic and health institutions to best leverage resources. The MSSRF is a legal entity separate from the MS Society of Canada; therefore, we are legally obligated to generate separate financial statements and charity information returns (T3010) for the MSSRF. The Foundation’s T3010 is available on the CRA website here.

endMS Research and Training Network – $2,344,480

The endMS Research and Training Network is a $20 million initiative managed by the MS Society of Canada and funded through the MS Scientific Research Foundation. Every year, funds are drawn from this large pool to support the Network, which works to attract, train, and retain young MS researchers to the field.

endMS Whatever It Takes – $2,735,344


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 2015, MS Society’s cost of administration was 7.5 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 2015, our overall cost of fundraising was 41 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.

Cost of fundraising per program

Major gift fundraising: 21 per cent

Events: 39 per cent

Direct mail: 68 per cent

Fundraising costs include things like:

• Postage: Postage remains a significant cost for our direct mail program, which reaches more Canadians than any other MS Society program. Canadian charities do not receive subsidies for consistently rising postage costs.

• Event security: We are committed to ensuring that all event participants are safe when they take part in an MS Society event, which requires investments in site security across the country.

• Event sites: While corporate sponsors for events like the MS Walk frequently help to offset site costs, many event locations across Canada are paid for by the MS Society.

How can I help the MS Society reduce its cost of fundraising?

There are many ways you can help us reduce the cost of fundraising, and we thank you for doing so!

Become a member of the Mission First Club. When you participate in the MS Walk or MS Bike and earn gift cards, you can choose to donate the cash value of those prizes back to our mission: to fund MS research to find a cure for MS.

Become a pre-authorized monthly donor. When you pre-authorize your donation to the MS Society through your financial institution, we spend less administration resources in processing the donation.

Go paperless with online fundraising. When you fundraise for events like MS Walk, MS Bike, I Challenge MS, etc. and move all your fundraising activity to your online Participant Centre, you are reducing the time it takes staff to count monies coming in from offline donations. You are also reducing our postage costs, as tax receipts for online fundraising are generated automatically through our system.

What does the Money Sense charity grade mean?

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.

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 of the MS Society of Canada has 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.

All our MS Walk events across Canada are accessible to people living with disabilities. Our MS Bike, Muck MS Canada, and other select community events that involve various forms of physical activity are limited to people living with MS based on physical ability at the time of the event. Many people living with MS participate in these activities, as many people who live with the disease feel well enough to engage in the physical activity required for such events.

Research Funding

What kind of MS research does the MS Society fund?

Every year the MS Society funds several million dollars in research to support studies that investigate all aspects of MS, both biological and clinical. Based on our research priorities discussion sessions during which people living with MS let us know what kind of research would help them the most, we focus on the following areas:

• Progressive MS: new knowledge and finding the first treatment
• Finding the cause of MS
• Life-modifying therapies
• Myelin repair

The MS Society also supports research and training programs that cultivate a network of bright young researchers, to ensure that the future of MS research remains supported and continues to generate innovative discoveries.
Read more about the research we fund here.

How does the MS Society decide what to fund?

The MS Society of Canada relies on counsel from scientific and medical experts when making important decisions regarding research funding and programming, and any matters related to the health and treatment of people living with multiple sclerosis. Various research committees are convened based on the MS Society’s priorities, needs and programs. These committees formulate recommendations that are reviewed and approved by MS Society’s Board of Directors.


How can people living with MS become involved in decisions regarding research funding?

People living with MS can become community representatives on our research review committees! Community representatives are people who have a personal connection to MS and thus are able to comment on how research will influence their daily life and the broader MS community.

Through the engagement of community representatives in the review process, we provide a venue for people affected by MS to have their voices heard and learn more about MS research in Canada.

Each year the MS Society assembles three research review committees for the annual research competition. They review a specific set of applications based on the nature of the proposals and the expertise of the reviewers:
• Biomedical research review committee
• Clinical and population health research review committee
• endMS personnel awards review committee

To learn more about the committees and their roles and responsibilities, visit Review Process and Criteria.

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.

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 is an ex-officio member of the MAC. Currently the MAC includes neurologists, researchers, epidemiologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists, neuropathologists, and pediatric neurologists.