The dual philanthropy of our area's snowbirds
Knox February, March and April are among the busiest months in Southwest Florida for seasonal residents. We welcome our northern friends from Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois,
Iowa, and others blustery states. Snowbirds, as they are called, improve our regional economy through their collective purchasing habits. Loosely defined, a snowbird is a person who spends several months out of each year as a part-time resident in warmer state. Florida and Arizona are two of the most popular destinations.
Limited scientific research exists regarding the impact of snowbirds on the charitable community, both in terms of donations and volunteers. However, a survey of community foundations and a 2001 study about the motivations of seasonal residents in Florida provide insight on this very special population.
The seasonal resident is affluent, retired, interested in leisure activities and increasingly chooses Florida and other Sunbelt states as a part- or fulltime residence. Snowbirds begin as part-time residents of Florida. As the years pass, they begin to spend more months in Florida than in their home state. Eventually, they conclude that Florida is a good place to establish permanent residency, and they begin the legal process to establish domicile in Florida. This is a lengthy and detailed process that should involve good counsel, as there are many tax and legal considerations.
From a charitable perspective, snowbirds generally follow a similar pattern. In the beginning, snowbirds give nominal amounts to local charities, and usually they give to charities that are similar to those in their home state or that have a national focus. For example, if they are lifelong donors to the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, they may also give to the United Way of Lee County, because they have an affinity for the work of the United Way. Or if they have a fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, they might inquire about the granting programs of the Southwest Florida Community
Foundation and seek ways to help. They already understand the work of the Community Foundation.
But as seasonal residents return each year, they build relationships within their community associations, churches, and in their social interactions with others. They view Fort Myers, Naples, Bonita Springs, Sanibel Island, Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach as "their" towns, and they want to learn more and give back. The greater number of years a person has lived seasonally here, the more likely a gift will be given to support a local charity.
Soon, the seasonal resident becomes a fulltime Floridian, and they have reversed their travel itinerary to spend the majority of their time in Florida, until death.
What does this mean for local charities? Opportunities exist for charities to cultivate and steward snowbirds.
1) Snowbirds are social. Charities should emphasize the social, as well as the practical, benefits of volunteering. Volunteer opportunities should include the opportunity for volunteers to talk with each other and create friendships.
2) Make it easy to give. Did the women's club take up a collection of blankets for the non-profit nursery for babies in intensive care? Did the men's club volunteer to paint the house for children with disabilities? Be grateful and thankful for the work accomplished. Follow-up with more opportunities and be sure to thank the volunteers. They will return the next time with friends.
3) To establish domicile in Florida, many legal documents must be changed, including wills and estate documents. This is a good time for many donors to reconsider how they want to make a lasting gift, especially if they have built relationships with charities here. Remind your volunteers and donors about planned giving opportunities on a regular and consistent basis.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has been supporting the communities of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry through endowed funds for over 32 years. With assets of more than $57 million and over 320 endowed funds, the Community Foundation has provided more than $39.5 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. For more information, please call 274-5900, or visit our Web site at www.floridacommunity.com.