Mass Observation Archive

Mass Observation Archive (MOA) (2013)

This case study showcases how archive services might encourage financial contributions from ‘friends’ by targeting membership fees or donations towards specific activities or costs.


The Mass Observation Archive Trust is a registered charity (No 270218) whose aims are ‘to hold the papers of the social research organisation, Mass Observation (1937-present day) at the University of Sussex. The trust is responsible for the care of the material and for ensuring the best possible access for research’.

The MOA has eight trustees who are responsible for overseeing the trust but the collection is managed within the University of Sussex’s Special Collections. There are three staff posts funded by the Mass Observation Archive Trust.

The Friends scheme was set up in 1991 when there were concerns over the Trust’s ability to remain self-financing. There are currently around 90 friends, most of whom have either been a Mass Observation respondent or have researched in the Mass Observation Archive.

Unlike many Friends groups, the Friends of Mass Observation Archive does not have specific membership fees but has a suggested donation of £20. In return, Friends receive a newsletter on the work of the MOA.

As the MOA Trust is a registered charity in its own right, the Friends scheme does not have a separate governance structure, and its development is overseen by the MOA trustees and co-ordinated by the Mass Observation Project Officer.

In the year ending 30 September 2013, The Mass Observation Trust earned around £95,000 and spent £73,000. The majority of the Trust’s income is from drawn from intellectual property and fees. Only £2,059 was from Friends’ membership donations, with an additional £190 in gift aid.

Budget and funding sources

As MOA is a registered charity, all monies raised through Friends are directly part of MOA’s income and are recorded directly in their accounts and published annual report. The 2012-13 figures represent a slight reduction in Friends income from the previous five years, where the average was £2,600. However, the income to date for 2013-2014 has received a small increase.

Friends can pay their donation via cheques or electronic bank transfer and donations can be made to Mass Observation via the Charities Aid Foundation website.

Challenges and opportunities

While most Friends do pay at the suggested donation level of £20, the number of members is static and fairly low. Interest in Mass Observation has increased recently with more publications drawing on the archive, so there is the potential to increase membership of the Friends.

A successful mini campaign to purchase some 1939 Mass Observation directive replies made available for sale on the open market, suggested that there is an appetite for Friends to donate to more targeted activities to support MOA.

While Friends receive a newsletter, there is an issue around identifying appropriate benefits for Friends. At one point members received promotional merchandise (notebooks and pencils) but this initiative was not felt to have any particular positive impact on membership numbers. There was a discount for Friends attending the 75th anniversary conference, but with potential Friends located across the UK and overseas, there is a concern about the value of focusing benefits too much around geographical proximity to the collection, for example a Friends event programme.

The Mass Observation Archive recently moved to The Keep, a new history centre developed in partnership between East Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and the University of Sussex. Therefore fundraising by and through the Friends of the Mass Observation Archive will need to be developed in the context of this new partnership, any wider fundraising initiatives for The Keep, as well as the work of University of Sussex’s own fundraising team.

Responding to the challenges and opportunities

The Mass Observation Project Officer has recently developed a fundraising proposal that includes the role of the Friends. Rather than asking for a general donation, the Friends were asked to support specific educational resources or outreach work. Friends are now able to keep abreast of the progress of these campaigns through updates via a new fundraising newsletter.

Currently the main motivation to become a Friend is that an individual has previously either been a volunteer writer (contributor) for the project or a researcher. The profile of the Friends needs to be raised with these target audiences in mind, but also more generally.

The impact of the new targeted donations programme will be used to consider how to match interested donors to particular campaigns.

The next 18 months will be a period of exploring a range of fundraising initiatives.

Find out more about the Mass Observation Archive and their Friends Group.


This case study complements The National Archives guidance note ‘Using Friends Groups to support fundraising’.