Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Giving Challenge lends helping hand to Sarasota County nonprofits

Ianna Guedes and Lucia Moretta add a treatment to their bacteria. The Giving Challenge has helped meet the needs of students at Sarasota High School's MaST Research Institute.
Ianna Guedes and Lucia Moretta add a treatment to their bacteria. The Giving Challenge has helped meet the needs of students at Sarasota High School's MaST Research Institute.
Photo by Ian Swaby
  • Sarasota
  • Neighbors
  • Share

Sarasota once again showed its philanthropic spirit from April 9-10 during the 2024 Giving Challenge.  

Hosted by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County in conjunction with The Patterson Foundation, the biennial Giving Challenge provides funding to more than 700 nonprofit organizations across Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

It also offered matches on all unique donations between $25 and $100, provided by The Patterson Foundation.

The Observer spoke with a few of the smaller nonprofits that gained high numbers of donations and donors to learn what plans they have for the funds and how the funds will help benefit the community.

Circus Ring of Fame

Bill Powell, chair and CEO of the Circus Ring of Fame, said the Giving Challenge keeps providing increasing returns.

He said the prospect of the matches has been attractive to donors, but that it helped to be a little creative with the process. This year the nonprofit roped in renowned circus performer Bello Nock, who has been actively involved since 2022, for a series of short videos. 

“Our learning curve increases each time we do it,” Powell said, stating this year saw a 30% increase in the organization’s ability to raise funds, with $23,313 in donations and $19,421 in matches raised.

Every sport has an awards show, Powell said, and the goal of Circus Ring of Fame is to ensure that the circus arts are honored in the same way.

“The effort that an individual has to give to perfect their craft, every time giving 1,000%, is something that we honor, and we tell their story,” he said.

Sailor Circus' Kaylee Dutkiewicz performs at 2022 Circus Ring of Fame induction ceremony.
Photo by Eric Garwood

The funds raised will help with the production costs of more bronze plaques in the Circus Ring of Fame, which can be found at St. Armands Circle Central Park, and their accompanying biographies, as well as the production and distribution of the nonprofit’s annual awards ceremony.

Powell said the biographies for the plaques, which are viewable through QR codes, create a more engaging reading experience than reading from a plaque itself does. 

Meanwhile, he called the awards ceremony the “Circus Arts version of the Academy Awards or the Grammys.” 

Funds will help ensure that everyone who presents the awards is “first-class.” In 2022, the ceremony moved out of St. Armands Circle, partnering with Circus Sarasota to rent a space. 

“We think it’s very well done,” he said. “It’s been very well received by the global circus arts community.”

MaST Research Institute 

The MaST (Math, Science and Technical) Research Institute at Sarasota High School has an ambitious goal: to lead students in pursuing science projects of their own creation. 

For many students, the cost of such an endeavor isn’t feasible, and according to Andy Harshman, who has led the MaST program for the past 16 years, the Giving Challenge has helped meet students’ needs. 

"It was the easiest fundraiser we had ever done and made the most money that we've ever been able to make, and so every year, we continue to do that and use it as, really, one of our main sources of fundraising,” he said, noting the nonprofit has been involved with the challenge since close to its inception in 2012. 

This year, MaST raised $19,270 in donor gifts with $17,095 in matches.

Originally, the program, which has existed since 1995, was entirely self-funded. Previously, students would pay for their own experiments or any travel they required, with the laboratory relying on small donations. In 2011, it had started its own booster organization.

Now, Harshman said it can basically provide for the requirements of the projects of all students, with about 75% of funding going directly to research projects.

The impact of the program, Harshman said, extends beyond high school. 

It benefits students who are applying for college, while many students will go on to publish their research in scientific journals as undergrads. 

“It's definitely good for people who are really curious and want to try different things because you don't have to stick to one thing,” said Imre Williams, a freshman, who is working on a project to model the paths of comets and asteroids using AI. “I could do this project, and then I could do a completely different one, so if you're still trying to figure out your interests, it's good for you.”

Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota

Bern Cattanach, president of Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota, said the organization carries out a mission of embracing humanity and promoting equality and inclusion, a mission that is made easier through music. 

"We believe music tends to build bridges and not tear them down," she said. 

Nonetheless, she said there are more finances involved in running a choir than might be expected. 

"We actually did very well this year," she said. "Our 50-member choir raised just shy of $25,000, and we are a small nonprofit."

Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota offers a performance, led by director Chris Romeo.
Courtesy image

At the same time, the organization, a chorus focused on inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals, has not raised dues on members in 10 years. 

“We don’t want people who want to sing, to not be able to because they can’t afford it,” she said.

The group also gives scholarships to members who are not able to pay.

During the Giving Challenge, the nonprofit raised $13,405 with $11,505 in matches.

Some of the costs the funds may help to cover include those of an accompanist and conductor, music and learning tracks, uploading the music online and royalties for the music to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and to Broadcast Music.

The nonprofit also pays for membership to an online choral networking site, Chorus Connection, which costs a choir of its size $720 per year. 

Then finally, there are two additional ensembles to be created — one for tenor and bass and one for soprano and alto, both of which will bring together the best singers of each groups, each with their own directors and accompanists. 

“We were thrilled that we won’t have to penny pinch for a little while,” Cattanach said. 

She said the group is also excited that in mid-July, it will be attending GALA Festival Minneapolis, which brings together 120 choirs and over 12,000 singers from around the world.

The Philippi Crest Club

Even though it is about 100 years old, The Phillippi Crest Club, which maintains the historic Phillippi Crest Community Clubhouse, just gained nonprofit status about a year ago.

“We did really well, and we are so thankful of the Sarasota community,” said Ted Ritter, a board member of the organization, of its first Giving Challenge, which saw $15,030 with $14,405 in matches raised. 

He noted donors came from a broad area, which shows the impact of and interest in the building. 

The nonprofit is focused on maintaining the clubhouse, which he calls “the coolest, oldest independent arts venue in Sarasota." Built in the 1920s by snowbirds from Maine, the building was designed as a gathering place for the Philippi Creek community.

He said the historic nature of the building, the Old Florida landscape, and its acoustics during music performances are all part of its appeal. 

A major area of focus right now is replacing the roof on the building. 

Funds raised during The Giving Challenge will go towards restoring the roof of The Phillippi Crest Community Clubhouse.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Currently, four to five layers of asphalt shingles are now piled on the roof, but during major rains, a significant amount of water that ends up inside the clubhouse.

He said the Giving Challenge raised about three-quarters of the funds needed for the replacement, which he hopes will be complete before hurricane season. The repairs will involve adding a new metal roof, repairing the wood underneath and adding foam insulation. 

The hope is that the insulation will allow for air conditioning in the clubhouse for the first time, whereas currently, the temperature does not allow for events to be conducted during the summer months. 

Once the roof repairs are complete, the group will turn their focus to the floors and other features.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

Latest News