I was delighted to be able to go to the 1st ever JustGiving Awards last night, celebrating a year of innovative and successful fundraising for a number of very deserving causes.
About 140 people attended the gathering, and whilst the sipping of drinks and nibbling of very tasty finger food was welcome, the undeniable focus was on the purpose of the evening. While the awards were announced and the speakers were sharing their stories, you could have heard a pin drop.
It was, for me, also an evening of mad coincidences! Firstly we were sat on a table with a JG fundraiser who also happened to be a regular Dogs Trust supporter! It was lovely to be able to thank someone in person for caring about what we do. Next I ran smack dab into my former boss (and my husband's current employer!), the man behind both 2Simple Software and the 2Simple Trust, the latter of which is a charity raising money to help children with a very serious and rare form of cancer, neuroblastoma, seek very expensive but potentially lifesaving treatment solely offered in Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York. More about this in a moment.
The Awards kicked off with excellent MC Jonathan Waddingham (JG's Charity Champion, and someone the digital team at Dogs Trust knows well) introducing the various speakers and presenters. There were just four categories, focussing on innovation, popularity, success and incredible achievement - the last of which went to a frenzied public vote over the last few weeks.
All the nominees and winners had amazing stories to tell, and I wish I could go into every one, as they deserve it. However, the JG team were filming the event and I'm sure they'll go into all those details on their blog soon. I do have to say something about the person I felt had the most incredible impact on the evening.
Phil Packer has become well known for his tremendously physically challenging feats to raise over £1m for Help for Heroes since becoming injured in the line of duty. He has since extended his support to various charities which help with spinal injuries and is particularly focussed on helping young people. He spoke about his journey, his hopes and ambitions for the future and the ways in which JustGiving and the London Marathon have helped him achieve his goals so far. As well as receiving a well-deserved standing ovation, however, he did something else that I found very moving.
Major Packer was, as it turned out, also the winner of the Most Successful Fundraiser Award, in which he was head to head with two families raising funds for neuroblastoma treatment through the 2Simple Trust, as I mentioned earlier. Sophie Atay, an award-winner in another category, is receiving treatment in New York as I write, but Robyn Higgins and her family are still trying to raise £300,000 to continue her treatment. As Major Packer accepted his award, he said he wasn't sure he wanted to win it, when there was still so much left to be done. He immediately pledged some money to Robyn's appeal and encouraged everyone in the room to do so as well. Since making that plea, around £750 has been added to Robyn's total.
This act of selflessness and encouragement is the kind of thing people working in charities are privileged to observe on a regular basis, but it never fails to touch the heart.
Dogs Trust has worked with JustGiving for several years, recently also adding BMyCharity and Virgin Money Giving to the ways that we can help people raise money. We have seen our supporters do incredible things in the name of helping dogs, and watched as the easy way of online giving stretched sponsorship beyond friends and family to large groups of likeminded individuals. It works for charities but most importantly works to empower supporters and help them reach - and often exceed - their goals. These Awards picked out a few individuals, but events like this serve to celebrate every person who has set out to help a cause they believe in, so it really was an honour to be there and witness this.