MANATEE -- With more than $3.85 million pledged in the 24-hour 2015 Giving Challenge -- which ended at noon Wednesday -- local nonprofits outdid themselves by smashing the fundraising record by more than $600,000.
Giving Challenge serves more than 440 nonprofits in Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.
"This is wonderful news and a big boost to the bottom lines of the nonprofits. I am so pleased," said Marilyn Howard, executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.
Howard attributed the success to the energetic fundraising by nonprofits, and the matches offered by the Patterson Foundation and others.
"This was an exciting way to give," Howard said.
With the matches, Giving Challenge generated 36,417 gifts, and raised $6,674,839.10.
The Patterson Foundation provided a $2.7 million match this year, said Debra M. Jacobs, president and CEO. She praised the generosity of community donors, and fundraising efforts of the nonprofits.
"It's phenomenal. The generosity has certainly exploded," Jacobs said. "It is a tribute to every one of the nonprofits, and how they planned and implemented Giving Challenge."
Significantly, all of the nonprofits attracted new donors this year.
"This is all about the donors who came to the cause," Jacobs added. She praised the Community Foundation of Sarasota County for administering Giving Challenge at no
charge for donors, nonprofits and the community.
Partners include the Patterson Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and William G. and Marie Selby Foundation.
"We know that people really turned out and gave," said Susie Bowie, vice president of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
"It definitely exceeded anything that we might have imagined. We think these unrestricted dollars will make a huge difference for the nonprofits and the clients they serve."
Last year, Saint Stephen's Episcopal School did not participate in Giving Challenge. This year it outpaced all nonprofits in fundraising with $78,703.
"We feel really good about this. Our whole community rallied," said Jan Pullen, head of school of Saint Stephen's. The school will use the new funds to kick off its annual campaign, used to enhance programs such as global education and foreign language programs.
Among other fundraising leaders was Cat Depot with $76,690, and its partner, Honor Animal Rescue of Lakewood Ranch, with $72,101. Phelan McDermid Syndrome, based in Venice, raised $74,508.
All donations, large or small, were valuable to the nonprofits, whether an organization like the Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota which operates on a shoestring, or Turning Points, which serves homeless veterans, provides a free clinic, offers utility and rental assistance, and open-door basic services.
"We had a fantastic campaign with We Care Manatee. We focused on our volunteers who are our neighborhood heroes. We took pictures of these volunteers and supporters as superheroes and shared them on both of our Facebook pages," said Margi Dawson, development director for Turning Points.
"We had 120 gifts, a 242 percent increase over last year, totaling $10,700, a 114 percent increase over last year. This dollar amount is before the match from the Patterson Foundation. Most of the donations were from new donors so we expect a large percent of the total to be matched," Dawson said.
Jack Barnett of The Pops Orchestra was equally happy. "We tripled the number of donors and brought in nearly four times the money," Barnett said.
The $6,990 raised before matches will add a bit of comfort to the budget for the all-volunteer arts organization, Barnett said.
"This is a significant increase. This gives us the ability to try some new things we couldn't try before," he said.
James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.