MANATEE -- The 36-Hour Giving Challenge still had a ways to go, but Jannon Pierce was feeling it.
So were Tiffany Stephenson, David Johnson and Jamie Thomas.
Their respective organizations, all first-time challenge participants, were doing well in the second annual communitywide fundraising event that began Tuesday at 7 a.m. and concludes 7 tonight.
"We're ecstatic," said Pierce, an official with Bradenton Christian School which was fifth out of 285 nonprofits with $40,735 at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with 316 donors. "It's still the first leg, but we're encouraged by our level of participation."
That number figured to keep the school in contention for the $20,000 grant for most unique donors. Or the smaller yet still generous grants behind it, ranging from $15,000 to $1,000.
"We've still got some donors strategically placed to take advantage of those grants," Pierce said.
The challenge broke the $1-million mark within its opening 90 minutes and hovered near $1.6 million in direct donations by Tuesday evening.
Overall, the challenge totaled $2.17 million due to matching funds of $430,000 from the Patterson Foundation for new and increased gifts, plus $215,000 in special grants and prizes from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, Charlotte Community Foundation and the Selby Foundation.
Last year the challenge raised $2,401,601 with 109 participating organizations. The Manatee Players Inc., led with $188,091.
"The pace of giving is well ahead of where we were at this point last year," said Sharon Kunkel with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. "The increased number of participants is going to exponentially increase the donor pool."
That worked for Tiffany Stephenson with Shelter Box USA in Lakewood Ranch, an international disaster relief organization.
It had raised $19,300 with 82 donors by Tuesday evening.
"Many don't know about Shelter Box, so we didn't know what to expect," she said. "It's nice to see we can engage supporters."
Meanwhile, Young Life of Manatee had raised $19,605 with 238 donors.
Area director David Johnson said whatever money is eventually raised by the challenge will go toward its programs for teen-aged mothers, children with disabilities and its hispanic ministry.
"Doing it like this helps us fund programs that can't fund themselves," he said. "We're really pleased."
So was Jamie Thomas.
She's an accountant at St. Joseph Catholic School, which raised $15,821 with 102 donors by Tuesday evening. The eventual total will go toward the school's $85,000 annual campaign.
"We were kind of learning the ropes so we're grateful for anything we get," Thomas said.
As for the Manatee Players Inc., the inaugural challenge represented a major fundraising component for its new theater.
With the opening March 28, priorities have changed.
By Tuesday evening, it had raised $14,687 with 193 donors.
"This year we knew from Day 1 it was not going to be about raising money through the challenge, but cultivating our big donors who participated," said executive director Janene Witham.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix