Giving Back: Here are some lessons from Manatee leaders in philanthropy

The givers in our community have many faces. Most of the time, we do not even know who they are, passing them without notice in the grocery line or on a weekend hike.

In Manatee County, leaders in philanthropy are often unassuming, modest and genuine. They do not give to be recognized, but give because they truly care about changing the human condition. They are business leaders, students, retirees, working families. And from them, a quiet circuitry of money, time, connections and experiences flow through the channels of nonprofits and individuals in need.

Each year, Manatee Community Foundation’s Spirit of Manatee Awards offer a glimpse into the work of giving people as a way to thank them, to illuminate what is possible, and to inspire others who are on their own personal quests to invest in our community.

This year’s honorees had a lot to say about life, service and connections. Here are some pieces of wisdom from their speeches.

Contributions from all are needed now

The act of giving on its own is not an accomplishment. To be meaningful, it requires other gifts, other givers, ideas, time and a results focus from those who oversee the programmatic work in charitable organizations. As our Spirit winners talked about their giving to local nonprofits addressing homelessness, poverty, education and children with special needs, they shined a light on the essential nature of participation.

The Hernando DeSoto Historical Society, recipient of the Community Spirit Award, finds a role for its 225 members in raising money and volunteering thousands of hours every year. In each of our lives, there is an intersection between community need and meaning. Find yours now and take the first step.

Giving is an equal opportunity endeavor

Oscar Portillo-Meza, winner of the Young Spirit Award, is an articulate, poised and inspirational senior at Bayshore High School who has a vision for a better world.

Susie Bowie
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation.

In a speech that could have been delivered by John F. Kennedy, he spoke about the need for strengthening hope even in difficult times.

In his own words, “One single person can spark the change needed in a city, a city can change a state, a state can change a country, and a country can change the world.”

Portillo-Meza has been accepted into 25 colleges and universities around the country. But he does not come from a privileged background. He is a Dreamer, brought to our country from Honduras. He views his life as a chance to better the America he already believes in.

We can aspire to live with Oscar’s patriotism and belief in the strength of our country, and to embrace those from diverse backgrounds who are doing their part and more.

Philanthropy is a part of board service

An undeniable and essential role of every nonprofit board member is to ensure adequate resources for the mission. It’s a responsibility that is commonly avoided.

This year’s Spirit winners were strong spokespersons for board giving. Making personal leadership gifts, inviting friends and colleagues to invest in the organization through their personal introductions, and participating in the success of fundraising events have been modeled by Kara McAllister, Volunteer Spirit Winner, and Sandy and Jeanie Kirkpatrick, Lifetime Spirit winners.

1-Spirit of Manatee
Sandy and Jeanie Kirkpatrick accept the Lifetime Spirit Award at the Manatee Community Foundation’s 13th annual Spirit of Manatee awards banquet last week. Mark Young

People who work for nonprofits are important

Nonprofit staff members often take home a mental focus on those they serve, knowing there are not enough resources to address all of their needs. They start their days early, end them late, and some may not earn much more than the vulnerable clients with whom they work. Meeting the demands of the donors that support their missions, the flow of new ideas from board members, and an ever-changing community requires great energy, perseverance and, often, a thick skin.

The gratitude in the room was palpable when Jeanie Kirkpatrick asked nonprofit staff members to stand, thanking them for the vital role they play in the health of our community. To those on the outside of this sector, know that nonprofit employees cannot be appreciated enough. Their work is rewarding but challenging.

Acknowledge those who have influenced you

Spirit of Manatee emcee John Vita started the award ceremony with an unscripted acknowledgment recognizing Deputy County Administrator Cheri Coryea as a powerful influence in his own community involvement. This offers us all a gentle reminder that we may never know how a word or deed can encourage someone when they need it the most. Sometimes this delicate act of giving can have consequences beyond imagination.

Jane Plitt and Jim Bruen, Leadership Spirit winners, talked about putting empathy into action. Giving as a way of living is just their way.

Want to share how you are making a difference locally with your time, talent or treasure? Email your story to, and a local nonprofit of your choice could win a $500 grant from The Milestone Financial Group at Morgan Stanley Fund at Manatee Community Foundation.

Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: Phone: 941-747-7765.