Importance of Census Data for Nonprofits and Foundations

Posted on 11-13-2019

We inherently understand the power of data. Each day, we work diligently to quantify and evaluate the work that we do in our communities. This coming year, the federal government will conduct its official survey of the United States population, the U.S. Census.

The U.S. constitution requires that the federal government count the entire U.S. population once every ten years. This decennial census is the only full count of the U.S. population, and while the data is limited to demographic information, it is considered the gold standard for population information.

These population numbers are used to determine how federal tax dollars and seats in the House of Representatives are allocated for the next ten years. Additionally, these numbers are used to redraw local boundaries of congressional, state legislative, and school districts. Therefore, this data has a long-term impact on funding and policy at the federal, state and local level.

The decennial census is part of a broader ongoing effort of the Census Bureau to collect and share data, which includes the American Community Survey (ACS). Nonprofits and foundations regularly use this data to better design programs, evaluate our efforts and meet the needs of the populations we serve. For example, the data may inform the number of child care centers needed to meet demand, emergency preparedness operations or a social service organization in making a case for grant funding.

(Side note: ACS has a data users group that you may consider joining, if you’re not already.)

Good Measure’s goals include strengthening our community’s ability to use data for learning and improvement, and, in turn, promoting the use of data for greater community impact. As part of our mission, we promote and help facilitate an accurate census count. Unlike in the past, Texas has not dedicated any state dollars towards census efforts. And analyses show that an underfunded 2020 Census is putting an accurate count at risk.

In the name of data integrity, an inclusive democracy, and equity for all communities, nonprofits and foundations play an important role.

What Nonprofits Can Do

Nonprofits can help support a complete census count by joining forces with a local Complete Count Committee (CCC) and sharing information about the census—its technicalities and importance of an accurate count—with the populations you serve.

This year for the first time, people will be asked to complete the census online. Language barriers, lack of internet access, or fear about the questions and how data may be used may deter important populations from participating in the census. Including communities who may be hard to reach or count (including people of color, immigrants, young children, and people experiencing poverty) is critical to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard and everyone’s needs are represented for many years to come.

Based on estimates, in Texas, a 1% undercount in 2020 could result in losing $300 million a year in federal funding, many of that to the populations that need it most. The results of the 2020 Census will shape the future of our community.

Nonprofits can educate constituents to increase census participation and dispel rumors. If you are receiving questions about the census, you may direct individuals to United Way for Greater Austin’s 2-1-1 navigation center, which is confidential, multilingual and available 24/7.

To join regional count efforts, visit United Way for Greater Austin’s dedicated Central Texas 2020 Census page where they’ll be sharing information and trainings for staff and “census ambassadors.”

What Foundations Can Do

Foundations can educate grantees and encourage coordinated efforts to achieve an accurate count, especially organizations that serve populations at risk of being undercounted. The Funders Census Initiative has additional resources for foundations looking to increase their focus, awareness and promotion of the 2020 census.

Several Central Texas foundations are already partnering to fund get-out-the-count efforts in our community. United Way for Greater Austin is collaborating with the CCCs, grassroots nonprofit organizations and service providers and funders to promote 2020 Census efforts in a five-county region (Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson). Funds raised will be used to support organizations that will conduct boots-on-the-ground, get-out-the-count activities. To get involved, contact Mariana Salazar at Mariana.Salazar@uwatx.org.

Next Steps to an Accurate Count

Both nonprofits and foundations can become an official US Census partner to increase participation and make the count work for the community you serve.

Between March 12 and March 20, 2020, most households will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. But the work begins today!

Participating in the census is akin to voting – it’s another way we make our voices heard in the political system. What are you doing to ensure an accurate count?