At a ceremony in Westminster attended by 150 senior figures from the sector, the principal award was presented to Medecins Sans Frontieres UK, which has become a byword for fearlessness and independence in its medical work overseas. Jean-Michel Piedagnel, MSF UK's executive director, received the trophy from Barbara Stocking, chief executive of last year's winner, Oxfam.
Lord Victor Adebowale, the dynamic and outspoken chief executive of Turning Point, won the category of Britain's Most Admired Charity Chief Executive and was presented with the award by Geraldine Peacock, head of the Charity Commission, who won the title last year for her work with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
A new category of Britain's Most Innovative Charity was won by the RNID, widely regarded as modern, professional and effective. Its chief executive, John Low, received the award from Esther Rantzen, the TV personality and founder of Childline, which featured on three shortlists.
HRH The Princess Royal, winner of the other new category of Most Admired Celebrity Charity Champion, was unable to attend the ceremony. The award was received on her behalf by Mike Aaronson, chief executive of her principal charity, Save the Children, from Lord Heseltine, chairman of Third Sector's parent company the Haymarket Group.
The winners were selected in a poll of Third Sector readers, which marks them out from other charity awards because the recognition comes from the winners' peer group. The poll was accompanied by a survey designed to reveal the main concerns of Britain's senior charity managers.
The survey, detailed in the special awards supplement published in this week's Third Sector, shows that senior managers are most happy about the effects of Gift Aid and least happy about rises in National Insurance.
They are also concerned about the shortage of fundraising talent and the effects of the war in Iraq.