Community Foundations Lead Charge for an Accurate 2020 Census

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Jeremy W. Osborne

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeremy W. Osborne

By Amanda Palleschi

Once a decade, the federal government takes a roll call.

And as the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, community foundations across the country are stepping forward to make sure everyone gets counted.

The U.S. Census is a critical source of data that helps determine representation in the U.S. House of Representatives — and how the government disburses billions to communities and states. It has electoral implications too, since electoral college seats are determined by population.

But as the nation counts down to the official start of the 2020 U.S. Census next April 1, communities across the country are concerned that not everyone will be counted.

This is especially true in urban and rural areas where people are often difficult to reach -- and in areas with high concentrations of immigrants and first-generation citizens. These areas are even more prone to undercounts in 2020 in the wake of a number of changes in federal immigration policies, as well as a controversial effort by the Trump Administration to include a citizenship question.

In the face of these challenges, community foundations across the country are pushing to ensure that state and local governments are putting resources behind efforts to reach hard-to-count residents and making grants to support community-based Census outreach.

In New York, The New York Community Trust, along with other foundations, created the Census Equity Fund to direct funds from foundations, individual donors and nonprofits to support accurate count efforts. The Trust also drafted and circulated a sign-on letter asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo for $60 million to ensure New Yorkers vulnerable to undercounting are included in the 2020 Census.

A number of community foundations across New York -- including the Adirondack Foundation, Brooklyn Community Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes, Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, Long Island Community Foundation, Rochester Area Community Foundation and Westchester Community Foundation -- have joined the Trust’s advocacy effort.

Lawmakers in New York have taken notice and have proposed a plan to include $40 million in the next state budget to aid Census efforts. They are expected to vote on the budget on April 1 -- the same day as a planned “Census Day of Action” that marks one year until the start of the 2020 count.

New York offers just one example of how community foundations in cities and states across the country are gearing up for the Census.

Below are details about how some other community foundations across the country are leading efforts to ensure an accurate count in 2020:


The Arkansas Community Foundation is leading a statewide effort involving funders, donors, and nonprofits to organize a “Complete Count Committee” focused on building a statewide Census strategy.

In many rural, low-income parts of the state, residents do not have Internet access and are less likely to be counted. As such, the foundation and its partners are working to enlist volunteers and raise money to reach residents in rural communities across the state.

The foundation and its partners have already raised more than $300,000 for outreach efforts -- with more on the way. The foundation is also leading efforts to create a sign-on letter to elected officials in Arkansas about the importance of the 2020 Census, and has hired a coordinated to build the Arkansas Counts Complete Count Committee, which will work to hire, train and recruit census workers for the state.


The Seattle Foundation began preparing for the 2020 Census years ago — and is stepping up efforts as the count draws closer.

In 2018, the foundation made a $90,000 grant to fund the first Washington Census Alliance, a group of organizations that serve and are led by people of color across Washington state, to organize community-based efforts to make sure those historically undercounted communities are included in the state’s census.

In addition to this pilot program, the Seattle Foundation has also launched a funding effort with the city of Seattle and King County for additional support to hard-to-count communities which already have relationships with those communities and can best engage them in census efforts.

Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Community Foundation uses Census data to consider where to dedicate its efforts, so it knows how critical it is to dedicate resources to “undercounted” communities.

The foundation takes note of how one Rhode Island town, Central Falls, inspired a statewide effort with its Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) canvassing effort, which helped more than 500 new residential addresses to be added to the Census Bureau’s Master Address File. Thanks to its success, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order creating a Complete Count Committee -- a Census outreach program to increase public awareness of filling out the census.  

Southeast Michigan

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan in Detroit launched Southeast Michigan Counts to promote and support a fair and accurate count.

As part of the effort, the Community Foundation will award grants to organizations in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties that are working to promote awareness and action by historically undercounted populations such as communities of color, low-income households, immigrants, and young children.

The foundation is also working with the Michigan Nonprofit Association to provide support to its Be Counted Michigan campaign.

Syracuse, N.Y.

 The Central New York Community Foundation learned a lesson about undercounting in the U.S. Census when it wanted to use census data to examine children’s participation in the city of Syracuse’s Imagination Library book program.

“We were surprised to find that there were more children participating in Imagination LIbrary each month in some Census tracts than the Census thought existed,” says Central New York Community Foundation CEO Peter Dunn.

 The 2010 Census had undercounted many of Syracuse’s poorest residents. To help correct that problem in 2020,, the Community Foundation is partnering with a state funders’ coalition, and has provided grant funding to New York Counts 2020 -- an effort convened by the New York Immigration Coalition.

 The foundation has also provided funding to the city of Syracuse to hire a Count Coordinator, has joined with other state groups lobbying the state for additional Census funds, and has joined efforts to oppose the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.


 The Wyoming Community Foundation is partnering with the Wyoming Library Association to launch a statewide outreach effort around the 2020 Census promotion efforts.

“We plan to support costs and/or create promotional materials, as well as create a PSA to support the census count,” says Micah Richardson, the foundation’s director of communications and programs. 

Columbus, Ohio

The Columbus Foundation has been preparing for the 2020 Census by supporting an effort to study populations in Columbus that are most at risk of being undercounted. It is also taking part in the city’s “complete count committee”, which leads outreach and engagement efforts with those communities.

Peter Panepento