Reaching Seasonal Residents

Reaching Seasonal Residents

Article posted in Practice on 18 July 2001| comments
audience: National Publication | last updated: 18 May 2011


Do any snowbirds flock to or from your community? In this edition of Gift Planner's Digest, Nancy Turrell, CFRE explores the motivations and giving habits of these migratory philanthropists.

by Nancy K. Turrell

Nancy K. Turrell, CFRE has a bachelor's degree in marketing from New York University. Following her graduation, she moved to Los Angeles and worked with United Way of Los Angeles County during its annual campaign. In 1989, Turrell relocated to Stuart, Florida to accept a position as campaign director for United Way of Martin County. In 1996, she accepted a position as director of fund development with New Horizons of the Treasure Coast. She has served as the executive director of the Martin County Council for the Arts since April 1999, and received her master's degree in philanthropy and development from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota in 1999. She currently serves as past president of the Treasure Coast Chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE), and president to the Treasure Coast Planned Giving Council.



This article recaps a recent study exploring the motivations of seasonal residents in Florida to give to nonprofit organizations located and providing services in their seasonal community. The research consisted of a literature review of relevant books and articles on the affluent and seasonal living in sunbelt communities, focus groups with individuals who were defined as seasonal residents, and one-on-one interviews with individuals who are professionally employed as in several areas including law, financial management, trust operations, and charitable giving.

The research demonstrated that the seasonal resident, or "snowbird," is affluent, retired, interested in leisure activities, and increasingly choosing Florida and other sunbelt states as a residence. Seasonal residents are an audience for nonprofit organizations to consider as donor prospects. Demographic studies supported the premise that seasonal residents are charitable according to their primary demographic identities: age group and wealth. Similarities exist in motivations for seasonal residents toward giving in the seasonal community and giving to any organization. These motivations include personal affiliation or experience and peer-to-peer requests for support. Factors that impede any gift making including planned gifts to the nonprofit organizations in the seasonal community are lack of knowledge and pre-existing charitable commitments.

Motivations Of Seasonal Residents

The refrain that "people give to people" was heard throughout the information gathering process for this study. This concept is a standard fundraising axiom. It holds true in the seasonal community, as well. For the seasonal community, it means that the social nature of the retiree is to a nonprofit's advantage. Personal engagement strategies employed by charitable organizations will be successful in attracting financial support from snowbirds. Involvement in nonprofits is not only an avenue for spending time, it can also provide a social, networking entree for newcomers and can provide meaning to a person's retirement. Involving seasonal residents in garnering support from other seasonal residents will facilitate charitable giving.

Many people are intrinsically attracted to certain causes. When an organization is nationally recognized and provides services in the seasonal community, it is an advantage. Many study participants noted that they give, for example, to the YMCA or United Way in both communities, and typically it begins as a lesser gift in the seasonal community. Nonprofits in the seasonal community need to publicize what the organization does so that a seasonal resident has enough information to know that the agency is providing similar services as the one in his/her hometown. This is especially relevant in cases where the organization's name does not succinctly indicate the nature of services provided. Creating appropriate donor-focused strategies are important for nonprofit executives.

Personal experience is a strong bond between a donor and the beneficiary organization. In the seasonal community, since the seasonal residents are both older and more affluent, it is particularly relevant. As a retiree, one is more likely to benefit from services offered by organizations such as hospice, nonprofit hospitals, or other health care organizations, including disease-related agencies. These types of nonprofits stand to do very well as recipients of donations from individuals (or someone they know well) have been impacted or helped.

During the focus group sessions, participants often prefaced remarks with a phrase such as "I haven't lived here long." The length of residence came up over and over again especially when discussing the size of the gifts in relation to the size of the gifts made in the hometown. It seems that the greater number of years that the person has lived seasonally in the community, the more likely that a gift will be given. There seems to be a parallel between gift size and length of residence. This makes sense, although it is frustrating for the development staff of nonprofits in seasonal communities. A natural progression of the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor dictates that a gift begins small and over time increases, if the donor continues interest and is cultivated. The issue of residence is of particular note for gift planning professionals, as it directly relates to a person's willingness to make planned gifts, which are significant financial investment decisions.

Closely tied to the length of residence are the commitments and responsibilities that a seasonal resident has kept with nonprofits in their hometown. Gradually those ties may lessen to northern nonprofits; however, in the initial years of seasonally living in Florida or elsewhere, the commitments will more than likely dominate the donor's charitable budget. One focus group participant noted that she primarily gives to organizations where either she or her husband sits on the board; but they have not developed many relationships like that in Florida.

Increasing Involvement and Contributions

Strategies to increase involvement and contributions, including planned gifts, from seasonal residents are clearly a desired result. By exploring a seasonal resident's motivations in giving, nonprofits will be more successful at creating positive donor relationships. Some of the most interesting ideas and concepts for improving relationships, based on the study's findings, are developing relationships with "sister" organizations in the north, the role of special events, crafting messages for the seasonal resident, and creating relationships with gift planning professionals.

There is opportunity for organizations to communicate with sister organizations in northern communities. Both key informants and focus group participants mentioned this point. The thought is that the nonprofit organization can do better, with regard to satisfying the needs of a donor, together rather than separately. It may be easier for the organization in the seasonal community to understand the benefits of this approach than the one in the north; however, utilizing donors as the entree may be a unique and rewarding volunteer assignment for both. There is a natural flow with chapters of national organizations, but it can work with other organizations as well. The findings indicate that it is favorable for a relationship to develop with another nonprofit working together to succeed, not working against each other, for the resident's gift. Development staffs of nonprofit organizations in the seasonal community have an opportunity to take the lead with this effort. For example, an offer could be made to have the northern organization host a reception at the facility located in the seasonal community during the winter months.

Special events are frequently used as a way to be introduced to a nonprofit organization. With the proliferation of golf course communities and country clubs in many seasonal communities, it stands to reason that outdoor events are common. Events feed the social interaction needs of the retired market. The participant may initially play, if it is a golf tournament that is planned for example, at the behest of a fellow golf enthusiast; however, the nonprofit's development staff then has a responsibility to determine if the participant is a prospective donor or volunteer. Special events in the seasonal community are a way of obtaining names of interested individuals, especially since so many communities have list distribution restrictions. To benefit fully from the special event, the nonprofit should develop mechanisms for follow-up with the participants to determine specific interest and willingness to be more involved. Using special events comes with a cautionary remark as the time it takes to organize has consumed many organizations. Volunteer boards of directors and development committees can become overly reliant on special events. It is within the comfort range to ask for sponsorship of events and for friends to purchase tickets that have an obvious entertainment value. It is the responsibility of the fund development professional to educate volunteers about the disadvantages that come with a reliance on special events as a primary fundraising technique. The true advantage of special events in the seasonal community is as an identifier of potential donors, and also access to residents who live behind gates of guarded, private communities.

Communicating the mission and role of a nonprofit organization should be a part of any development or organizational plan. It is critical in a seasonal community to plan certain releases to occur during season. The literature review pinpoints several messages that are attractive to older, affluent adults. Many pieces in the literature review focused on communications strategies to attract planned gifts from individuals in the age group studied. However, with the seasonal community, it is important to start building a relationship through annual gifts and special events, before soliciting for major and planned gifts. Nonprofits in the seasonal community need to be patient in building the groundwork and the relationships because reaching out with an aggressive solicitation may harm the relationship with a donor who could make a significant gift in the future. Members of the development staff need to remember that rarely would a planned gift be made before an initial, smaller annual gift.

Testimonial support messages can be highly influential in attracting new donors. In Seven Faces of Philanthropy, authors Prince and File explain, "Prospective donors also become attached to nonprofits through identification with others like themselves who are major supporters of the charity. Providing the linkage between the two groups and facilitating communication of testimonials is one of the fundraisers most effective roles." For strategy development, it is important to consider the content of the message in addition to who is delivering it. The message and its delivery vehicles are equally important.

One suggestion supported by Prince and File's research is related to the cultivation of individuals in professional advisory fields such as pastors, brokers, and attorneys. This would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor in the seasonal community, especially to develop relationships that encourage planned giving. The strategies being undertaken by many planned giving councils through Leave a Legacy? programs will be influential in these seasonal markets. Being new to a community, and not living there full time, the seasonal resident often looks to these advisors for advice on local charitable groups. They see the advisor as a full-time resident of the community, and obviously trust them with other matters of personal importance. According to Prince and File, "Because of the importance of advisors to the affluent, fundraisers should apply the same strategies to cultivate them as they would use with philanthropists." Utilizing referrals may be one of the most successful strategies to employ in a seasonal community. "That is, a trusted intermediary introduces the nonprofit to the philanthropist-prospect. Because of that trust, the wealthy are willing to take the time and make the effort to consider the charitable organization." The more understanding these advisors have of nonprofit organizations, the more likely they will feel comfortable in recommending a group or making an introduction.


Great opportunities exist for nonprofit organizations located in communities influenced by an influx of seasonal residents, whether its "Winter Texans," or Florida's and California's "snowbirds," to make a significant impact on fundraising revenues. This can occur through the utilization of sound development practices to gain the gradual support of seasonal residents, and implementing specific strategies to reach seasonal residents. When nonprofit organizations reach out to this affluent and interested market, they will eventually reap the benefits. Having the patience to implement sound communications strategies, and to develop meaningful relationships with donors and gift planning professionals, will influence seasonal residents and the decisions they make in choosing a nonprofit in their seasonal community as recipient of a charitable gift. Development officers should approach seasonal residents with an abundance mentality. Based on the research, these prospective donors have the affluence and charitable intent necessary to become significant donors. These prospective donors cannot be rushed into large commitments without the initial "getting to know you" gifts first, and if they are rushed, it may mean the end of any support at all. It is important to the advancement of these relationships that the development officer recognizes the importance of the person's existing and long-term giving relationships in their northern "hometown."

Above all, building gradual support is the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations and will foster the relationships that are critical to obtaining bequests and other more sophisticated planned gift vehicles. The per capita income and resulting affluence found in the Sunbelt states (where the majority of seasonal residents live) supports the need for a serious commitment to the cultivation of seasonal residents to increase philanthropic contributions.

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