MANATEE -- The local 2014 Giving Challenge lasted only 24 hours, but it netted area charities more than $3.1 million in donations, surpassing last year's total and earning the No. 1 spot among 115 communities nationwide.
More than 400 nonprofits from Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties took part in the local Giving Challenge, an online campaign to raise money through donation pledges starting at noon Tuesday and ending at noon Wednesday.
The 3-year-old event is part of a national day of giving called Give Local America. Organizers say it raised $3,127,801 for the community and 18,799 individual donations, exceeding last year's 36-hour challenge total.
In addition, $675,000 in matching dollars and gifts and special grants were made available through sponsoring foundations as gift-giving incentives.
"Our community has demonstrated that it is a national leader in engaging people in citizen philanthropy. The
creativity of nonprofits, the generosity of donors and the insightfulness of sponsoring foundations is unmatched," said Susie Bowie, director of nonprofit strategy for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, organizing partner for the Giving Challenge.
Bowie said an unprecedented $1 million in online donations was raised in just 19 minutes at the beginning of the 2014 campaign.
She credited participants for finding ways to "use their stakeholders as ambassadors to attract attention, new donations and new friends both on and offline."
Nate's Honor Animal Rescue, a Lakewood Ranch-based organization, received 816 matching gifts worth a total of $49,451 -- the most any of local participant. Nate's rescued 24 dogs and cats Tuesday from Manatee and Sarasota Animal Services to show its commitment to saving the lives of stray and abandoned animals.
The Manatee Performing Arts Center, home of the Manatee Players, raised $21,325 in donations and received 154 gifts from sponsors, which gratified Executive Director Janene Witham.
"We are very pleased and excited about our participation this year. Since we've moved to our new facility about a year ago in downtown Bradenton, this challenge allowed us to reach out to a broader base of individuals, to let people know about us on a much larger scale," Witham said. She said she intends to use the donations to pursue grants to improve lighting at Stone Hall, the larger of the two theaters where the Manatee Players perform.
Out of all participating agencies, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County reached the top 25 percent by raising $6,625 in donations, which fell short the past two years. Despite a targeted mailing and handing out flyers at local Starbucks, only 20 percent of their $35,000 goal was met, according to Valerie Bliss, vice president of development.
"I was personally disappointed, but this was a great way to make the public aware of our summer camp program and the variety of items our children need to enjoy their summer to the fullest. Some can't even afford flip-flops and have never been to the beach, so this was an opportunity get the word out," said Bliss.
Realize Bradenton, which coordinates events and entertainment to attract visitors to downtown Bradenton, was delighted by 29 people donating $6,575 to their cause, according to officials from the nonprofit.
Feld Entertainment of Palmetto, which owns Ringling Brothers Circus, offered a challenge grant of $5,000, which Realize Bradenton met. The money will help Realize Bradenton roll out a new initiative to showcase local musical talent in partnership with Palmetto-based Del Couch Music Education Foundation, which provides scholarships to young musicians like Sam Woolf, Bradenton's "American Idol" contender who finished fifth on season 13 this year.
"The Giving Challenge was a win-win for us and the Del Couch Foundation," said Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton executive director. "Our initiative will give young musicians a chance to get experience and showcase their talents, and the foundation will receive more money for scholarships, which is what they really need."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.