The 13th annual Budapest Burns Supper, our charity fund raiser held at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal on Saturday 30 January 2010, raised “more than HUF 10 million” on the night.

The evening, held in honour of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, has become a key event in the Budapest social calendar, and has raised thousands of millions of forints for sick Hungarian children over the years.

While full figures will take some time to arrive at, Jock MacKenzie, chairman of the Robert Burns International Foundation, which distributes the money, was upbeat about the total.

“We can say that Ft10 million was raised on the night, which we are very happy with, and more has been pledged since.”

A focus of this year’s supper was getting people to donate 1% of their personal income tax to the RBIF, at no extra cost as the Hungarian government agrees to give up the money from its tax take, provided a nomination is made.

Stuart McAlister, managing director of the Inter Relocation Group, and chairman of the Burns Supper organising committee, said that the RBIF had received HUF 1 million forints last year “without really trying,” and was hoping to raise awareness both of the scheme itself, and the Foundation’s ability to benefit from it. Adrian Gray, General Manager of Le Meridien Hotel Budapest, and a member of the Curatorium which runs the RBIF, said one idea being considered was to appoint a “1% Champion”.

Pictured from left to right, Zoltán Magyar, founder of the RBIF, president of the Hungarian Scottish Society, William John “Willie” McStay, the Scottish-born coach of Újpest FC, presenting the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson trophy to Attila Erdei, Commercial Director for Diageo in Hungary and Croatia, Jock MacKenzie, Chairman of the Curatorium of the RBIF, and Stuart McAlister, Chairman of the Budapest Burns Supper Committee. (Photo by Tamás Rajna)

“We obviously want those who were there at the Supper to give their 1% to the Foundation, but we would also like the chief executives among them to encourage their employees who don’t yet make a donation to consider doing so to the RBIF,” Gray said.

Precise, up-to-date figures are not easy to find, but Mónika Keztyûs, a tax manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that the scheme covers all 3.5 million people who are liable to pay tax in Hungary. The amount raised in 2009, which was based on the 2008 tax returns, was put at HUF 9.4 billion (€34.8 million), she explained, split between 28,000 nominated charities and foundations.

The Burns Supper also saw the official launch, by British Ambassador Greg Dorey, of a €50,000 appeal for the second department of paediatrics at SOTE University Hospital, to build parent and child suites for “distant trauma” patients coming into Budapest from the Hungarian countryside, and possibly even abroad. The money is to be raised in large part by expats Simon Saunders and Harry Harron, who are competing in the Marathon des Sables in April. Billed as the toughest foot race on earth, it involves running five and a half marathons in six days across the Sahara desert.

For more information on their efforts, visit the team’s own blog.

On the afternoon of Saturday 23 January 2010, in front of a packed Old Trafford crowd there to witness the Manchester United FC vs. Hull City AFC English Premier League game, the identity of the third annual Robert Burns International Foundation Sponsor of the Year was revealed: Diageo Hungary Ltd.

Attila Erdei presenting a gift to Sir Alex Ferguson

The award is officially called the Ferenc Puskás – Sir Alex Ferguson Sponsor of the Year Trophy. It features a football crafted from copper, made by a Scottish artist and presented to Erzsébet Puskás in honour of her late husband, the legendary Hungarian footballer, and was handed over to Attila Erdei, the Commercial Manager for Diageo in Hungary and Croatia, by Sir Alex, the Honorary President of the RBIF.

Diageo, headquartered in Budapest on Soroksári út, has been involved with the Burns Supper for more than a decade. Supper Chairman Stuart McAlister explained what it was that made the drinks firm such champion sponsors, worthy of recognition in Manchester United’s Theatre of Dreams stadium.

“Diageo typically provides 70 bottles of Johnny Walker whisky for the Burns Supper, as well as two bottles of malt whisky for the auction/raffle. The company also provides a whisky tasting promotion every year, with the help of Csaba Gulyás, the ‘Whisky Ambassador’. Finally, Johnny Walker himself is always present at the Burns Supper so he can be a part of the presentation and the addressing of the haggis.”

The 42-year-old Attila Erdei, married with two daughters (aged 19 and 11) has worked for Diageo for almost two years. He said the decision to sponsor the event had been an easy one to take, the reasoning behind it straightforward.

“The goal of the Burns Supper [to raise funds for sick Hungarian children] is a great thing, and it is one of the few charity events we have supported over a long period of time,” he explained. But had the recent – and ongoing – global recession forced Diageo Hungary to scale back its sponsorship? “No, it is not a question,” Erdei insisted. “We will continue this sponsorship in the future as well.”

That’s good news for patrons of the supper, and, indeed, the organising committee that McAlister leads. Above all, though, it is good news for the children the supper supports.

By Robin Marshall