Case study: MS Society

The charity smashed targets with a low-cost appeal. Our expert offers his verdict

MS Society scanner appeal
MS Society scanner appeal

Organisation: MS Society
Campaign: MRI scanner campaign
Agency: Whitewater

The MS Society is the largest charity in the UK for people affected by multiple sclerosis. It funds research, runs respite centres, provides grants and operates a free helpline.


The charity wanted to use direct mail to raise money for a £1.4m MRI scanner to support research into MS and increase awareness of issues that were important to supporters. Before designing the campaign, the charity asked donors what they wanted and expected from it. Focus groups were held to establish the themes and the language that would prompt donations.

The results indicated strongly that any campaigns should articulate the needs of beneficiaries and supporters without portraying them as incapable or in need of sympathy.

What was done?

The society decided to limit the campaign to its 39,000 existing supporters. The appeal letter was written by its director of research and the tone was rational rather than emotional. The mailing also openly said the appeal sought to raise only part of the overall £1.4m. The straightforward look of the pack, emphasising the text, kept costs down to £29,500.

It sent the mailings to its 'warm' list of supporters who either have MS or know someone who has it.


The campaign was one of the society's most successful appeals to date, with a response rate of 15.29 per cent - well above the target of 11 per cent. The average gift was £21.28, compared with the target of £19.95.

Mathew Little


This was a great campaign. I would have liked to have seen a harder ask and smarter personalisation based on past behaviour, but apart from that it ticks all the direct mail boxes.

It's clear what supporters' money is needed for and why, and there is a specific financial target. With some funding already in place, donors feel the charity is already working hard elsewhere.

I'm not sure whether you need focus groups to tell you to ask people in straightforward terms for something that is desperately needed. But this is still a good example of how, if you have a great ask, you can present it without all of the creative bells and whistles.

Creativity: 4
Delivery: 4
Total: 8 out of 10

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