Back to top
Back to top

CENSUS 2020: Why an Accurate Count Matters to Philanthropy

Making the Case for Philanthropy

It is difficult to overstate the importance of a fair and accurate census count. When census information is not accurate, it threatens to muffle the voices of undercounted groups and regions, and undermine the basic political equality that is central to our democracy. Institutions across the country - including local and state governments, businesses, nonprofits and foundations - routinely rely on data from the census to allocate funding, define where services are delivered and promote economic development.

The Census Bureau is facing a daunting set of challenges as it prepares for the 2020 census. Since the bureau is facing budget constraints like never before, it is planning to collect the majority of census information online, scale back door-to-door outreach and roll back canvassing. These changes increase the potential of undercounting young children, minorities, low-income individuals and other marginalized individuals. Given the current climate, regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) and their members are needed to advocate and educate elected officials and community leaders on the importance and impact of the 2020 census on their communities. Even without the changes being proposed for the 2020 census, we know there were gross undercounts of vulnerable populations in the 2010 census. This is why the 2020 census matters to philanthropy.

Our Perspective on the Census

Our Members' Perspectives & Resources on the Census

Census Citizenship Question

Forum Statement

Our Members' Perspectives on Citizenship Question

PSOs and Foundations Stand United to Oppose Citizenship Question
33 PSO organizations signed on to a letter opposing the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census. They are aligned with more than 300 foundations that signed their own letter. These efforts were the result of a partnership between United Philanthropy Forum and the Funders Census Initiative of Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation. Both letters were submitted on August 3rd to the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau along with thousands of other comments from leaders and concerned citizens from across the country. Thank you to those of you who stepped up to take action on this important issue that creates a huge barrier toward achieving a fair and accurate census.

Forum’s Census Project: Engaging Philanthropy in the 2020 Census

United Philanthropy Forum would like to thank The Joyce Foundation for providing funding for a two-year project to engage regional funders in ensuring a more thorough and accurate census count in 2020. The Forum’s Census 2020 project has three main objectives:

  1. Educate philanthropy-serving organizations on the importance of the 2020 census and the role for their grantmaking members.
  2. Mobilize regional funders to advocate for policy improvements for the 2020 census.
  3. Increase funding support for the 2020 census among regional funders.

Through this initiative, the Forum has provided mini-grants to the regional PSOs in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana to engage in the Census 2020 Project.The Forum is also developing and providing tools, information and other resources that our entire network or regional and national PSOs can use to advocate with local and state governments to provide adequate funding for census outreach and education, and support other efforts to ensure a fair and accurate census count in 2020. The Forum has also received support from the Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup to advance our work in engaging philanthropy in the 2020 census.

Want to Join This Effort?

For more information or resources please contact Maggie Osborn.


Resources on the Census

Fact Sheets and Tools

Cities Count: Preparing for the 2020 Census - action guide for municipalities from the National League of Cities.

Count All Kids - A national hub on the undercount of young children. The Count All Kids Committee is a group of national, state and local children’s organizations and allies that have joined together to ensure our nation’s children are counted in the 2020 Census. Together, committee members lift up the importance of counting children in the census among the public, advocates and allies, and federal, state, and local policymakers, and identify opportunities to improve the count of children, especially young children, in 2020.

2020 Census Funder Toolkit - This toolkit from the Funders Census Initiative (a working group of Funders' Committee for Civic Participation) provides helpful information, resources, and guidance for grant makers who want to help ensure a fair and accurate census and explains why an accurate count is particularly critical for the communities you serve.

Municipal Complete Count Committee - A Municipal Complete Count Committee is a mutually beneficial partnership – at the highest level—within each city. The mayor often appoints members of the Complete Count Committee (CCC). Committees consist of influential community leaders who are charged with developing a census awareness campaign.

Census Policy Update: What’s in Store for 2018 - 2018 is a pivotal year on the road to the 2020 Census. Early field preparations have started; the ‘dress rehearsal’ will take place in Providence County, RI; and the Census Bureau must finalize counting methods and develop a multi-faceted communications plan. As the pace of census activities accelerates, Terri Ann Lowenthal, FCCP Census Consultant, recaps the major policy issues to watch in the coming months.

Census Uncertainty Spurs State Action to Prevent Undercounting - This article from Pew Charitable Trust highlights state and local efforts to help ensure an accurate, successful census in their communities

2020 Census Faces Challenges in Rural America - New report by Dr. William (Bill) O’Hare about special challenges that will make some rural areas and populations difficult to count accurately.

How You Can Help the 2020 Census in Your State - Checklist for legislators on how they can help ensure a fair and accurate census in their state. Developed on behalf of National Conference of State Legislatures by Jeffrey M. Wise, Special Counsel, New York State Assembly. 

Registered 2020 LUCA Participants
With the LUCA deadline fast approaching (Dec.15), the following map provides a listing of municipalities that have agreed to participate in LUCA. Please note that you have to zoom into the map to make the cities/towns appear. All of the cities/towns listed have agreed to participate. Find out more about LUCA.

Census Bureau Planned Area Census Offices
As funders continue to discuss "Get Out the Count" activities for the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau's list of locations for the 248 planned Area Census Offices (i.e. "local" offices) should be helpful. The sites were announced in a 2020 Census Memorandum earlier this month.

Engaging Your Foundation in the 2020 Census
Guidance on how your foundation can play a role in engaging the business sector to help achieve a successful 2020 Census.

Census Private Sector Fact Sheet
Background on the critical nature of the Cenus as a part of the private sector.

The Leadership Conference has released answers to common questions regarding the local updating of census addresses (LUCA).

Key Census Milestones
Funders Census Initiative 2020 has updated this document on key dates regaarding planning and implementation of the 2020 census. 

Census Hard To Count Mapping Tool
You can view hard to count communities by congressional and state legislative districts.  The map was created by Steven Romalewski at CUNY and will continue to be updated for outreach purposes. You can also view an overview of the tool here.

Will You Count? Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) in the 2020 Census
This fact sheet from The Leadership Conference Education Fund notes that Asian Americans and NHPIs are referred to as "hard-to-count" and are at a higher risk of not being fully counted in the decennial census. Along with providing background on Asian American and NSPI households, the sheet also details ways for stakeholders to help improve the count of their households in the 2020 Census.

Will You Count? Latinos in the 2020 Census
This fact sheet from The Leadership Conference Education Fund notes that Latinos are referred to as "hard-to-count" and are at a higher risk of not being fully counted in the decennial census. Along with providing background on Latino households, the sheet also details ways for stakeholders to help improve the count of all Latino households in the 2020 Census.

The American Community Survey and Civil Rights
This fact sheet from The Leadership Conference Education Fund details The American Community Survey and backs why it must be adequately funded and protected from irresponsible efforts to undermine its purpose and effectiveness.

New Fact Sheet on Census Accuracy and Undercount
This new resource from the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP) explains what we know about census accuracy and why it matters to funders and their grantees. 

Why We Need the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey
by the Census Project, March 2016

FY2017 U.S. Census Bureau Appropriations: Why Full Funding Matters
by the Census Project, February 2016

2010 Census Funder Toolkit
This toolkit from the Ford Foundation provides valuable resources to help make a difference in the 2010 Census. It offers a snapshot of the 2010 Census, its implications and practical steps to ensure that everyone is counted.

How Census Data Affects Your Community - Funding of Federal, State and Local Programs
Examples of programs impacted by the Census count. 

Supporting the Census and American Community Survey: A Toolkit for Coalition-Building
Produced by The Census Project, this toolkit offers information, resource and guidance for local stakeholders who want to create a coalition to help preserve a fair and accurate decennial census and comprehensive American Community Survey (ACS).

Everyone Counts!
Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees infographic on national and California undercount data


Counting All Californians in the 2020 Census by William O’Hare
This report provides an overview of the changing demographics of Caifornia in relation to Census accuracy.

The Count Starts Now: Taking Action to Avoid a Census 2020 Crisis
NY Counts Full Count Committee released a white paper to help New Yorkers better understand what’s at stake for the 2020 Census, to encourage local governments to participate in LUCA and to begin ramp up for a full and complete census count.

Everyone Counts: How 2020 Census Data Matter to Your Bottom Line
National Association of Counties produced a report on the use of 2020 census data, especially for local governments.

An Accurate Count is Essential for a Strong America
Military, law enforcement and business leaders of Council for a Strong America call on Congress to act to secure adequate census funding.

Counting Everyone in the Digital Age: Implications of Technology Use in the 2020 Decennial Census for the Count of Disadvantaged Groups
The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality (GCPI)  report addresses how proposed Internet and automation technologies will affect 2020 Census enumeration for groups at risk of being undercounted. The report also includes actionable recommendations for Congress, the administration, and community leaders.

Counting For Dollars: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds
This analysis of the geographic distribution of funds from the 16 largest Census-guided programs is designed to help stakeholders and policymakers understand the extent to which federal financial assistance is distributed on the basis of census-derived data. Fact sheets are available by program and states.  

Race and Ethnicity in the 2020 Census: Improving Data to Capture a Multi-Ethnic America
This report from The Leadership Conference Education Fund examines the Census Bureau’s research and testing program from the perspective of civil rights stakeholders and to ensure that any revisions to the 2020 census race and ethnicity questions continue to yield data that support the advancement of fairness and equity in all facets of American life.

2020 Census Operational Plan
This document presents a summary of 2020 Census operational design and presents the high-level schedule of key milestones and the most critical project risks.

Five Steps for Reducing the High Net Undercount of Young Children in the 2020 Census
by Dr. William P. O’Hare, August 2016

Reports on Philanthropic Support for 2010 Census Outreach and Education
These reports from the Funders Census Initiative includes details on California philanthropic census efforts and overview of grants awarded across the country.


Webinar- Census 2020: Why Philanthropy Counts
Co-hosted by the Forum and Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation on October 18, 2016, this webinar included a conversation about why the census matters and the role that philanthropy can play in ensuring a fair and accurate count.

Webinar- Census 2020: Making Philanthropy Count
Co-hosted by the Forum and Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation on February 27, 2017, this webinar why philanthropy should care about the census and how the success or failure of this important civic project will impact grantmaking and the communities that continue to be at risk. 

Recent News

5 Reasons a Robust Decennial Census Benefits All Americans - Urban Institute recently provided five reasons a well-funded, robust, and apolitical decennial census is an important American asset, not just for researchers, but for all Americans.

With 2020 Census Looming, Worries About Fairness and Accuracy - Article in New York Times about Census Bureau, policymakers and experts concerns.

It's more than a headcount: North Carolina’s stake in the 2020 Census - Op-ed facilitated by the Census Project and NC groups.

Untested U.S. Census Technology Puts National Security At Risk -  Op-ed from retired 3 star AL general facilitated by the Council for a Strong America.

Why would Trump choose this academic to lead the Census Bureau? - Washington Post editorial about concerns regarding the potential deputy director to be appointed as census bureau deputy director. 

How the U.S. Defines Race & Ethnicity May Change Under Trump - A reminder from NPR that the Office of Management and Budget is expected to publish final revisions to the Standards for the collection and reporting of federal data on race and ethnicity December 1st.

A High-Stakes Headcount: Philanthropy and the 2020 Census - Inside Philanthropy article highlighting the work on the Democracy Funders Collaborative and regional philanthropic efforts including Michigan.  

The Census Process is Off to a Lousy Start - Washington Post editorial board opinion from October 2017 on why Congress needs to take action now to save the census. 

Many Challenges Ahead for 2020 Census - October 2017 NPR report on Commerce Secretary’s testimony to Congress that the 2020 Census will cost 25 percent more than originally estimated.

With a congressional seat in the balance, City Planning prepares for Census count - October 2017 article in Politico on how a community is participating in LUCA and the importance of doing so.

High-tech 2020 Census: Grant it enough money to make it count- The Seattle Times editorial board highlighted important talking points about why funding is needed now to support the 2020 census in September 2017.

U.S. Census Troubles Threaten Future Real Estate Development- July 2017 article from Forbes on what’s at stake for the census and how the commercial real estate industry would be impacted by an inaccurate count.

Forum's Voice: A Critical Moment for the 2020 Census and Why Philanthropy Should Care - May 12, 2017

The head of the Census Bureau just quit, and the consequences are huge - May 11, 2017 Vox article

Census Watchers Warn of a Crisis if Funding for 2020 Count is not Increased - April 18, 2017 article in Washington Post

Civil Rights Organizations and Census Experts Highlight Damaging Consequences of Congress’ Failure to Fund the 2020 Census Appropriately - March 30, 2017 press release from The Leadership Conference Education Fund focusing on critical policy decisions affecting the 2020 Census, including the need for Congress to provide sufficient funding in 2017 and 2018 for rigorous, on-time census planning and preparations.

Trump's Threat to the 2020 Census - April 9, 2017 Politico piece

Monthly Updates

The Census Project compiles media stories on challenges facing the U.S. Census Bureau and both its 2020 decennial and the American Community Survey.

Additional Resources

The following resources are available to members of the Forum only. 

Materials from Philanthropy-Serving Organizations' Census Projects

  • 2020 Michigan Nonprofit Counts Campaign- Learn about how the Council of Michigan Foundations is educating members about what’s at stake in the 2020 Census and role for philanthropy including meeting with nonprofits to assess interest & readiness for a nonprofit get-out-the-count effort; advocating in support of funding & design of the Census; and partnering with the state demographer to serve as a resource for planning and communication efforts Census.
  • The Advancement Project CA has drafted a policy and outreach plan for Census 2020.
  • Materials on the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s (MCF) census project
  • Gearing Up for the 2020 Census- Agenda for Philanthropy Ohio’s initial meeting with funders.
  • Regional Census 2020 Infosheets- Two-pagers to encourage members of Congress to support a accurate, reliable and fair census.
  • Ohio Funders for the Census- Two-pager from Philanthropy Ohio to encourage members of Congress to support a accurate, reliable and fair census.
  • Recording Available: Funders Census Initiative Webinar on Census Public Opinion Research- This briefing provides guidance on best practices for talking about the census and the American Community Survey (ACS), which messages work best for different demographic groups, and other data on the census and ACS.
  • Sample letter from Philanthropy Ohio encouraging mayors to participate in the local update of census addresses. 
  • Council of Mighigan Foundations Census 2020 One-Pager- Overview from CMF on why funders should be concerned about the 2020 census and suggestions for how they can become involved in this issue.  
  • Sample presentation slides the provide an overview of the census from Forefront and Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.

Data and the Census

  • Summary of Policies and Procedures the Census Bureau uses to Protect Individual Privacy of the data collected
  • Data Stewardship Brochure on understanding and protecting census bureau information
  • State Contact Status Table on where the Census Bureau is with respect to securing data sharing agreements with the states.  The Census Bureau is using data the public has already provided to the government and data available from commercial sources, to reduce follow up to non-responders to the Census. 

Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup

  • Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup Plan of Action – this document addresses key census policy issues, conducting broader outreach within philanthropy and inviting new voices on census, and a “get out the count” outreach effort as we get closer to the 2020 census.
  • Democracy Funders Policy Framework - provides a road map of what needs to be done related to the policy phase of the Plan of Action.
  • Census Field Meeting Notes – report from a recent convening on building field support for census policy work.
  • Gearing Up for the 2020 Census  - Agenda for Philanthropy Ohio’s initial meeting with funders.
  • Recap of the January meeting of the Democracy Funders Census Subgroup- The meeting included on how the 2016 elections will impact the census; updates on research and policy efforts; review of polling data and a dialogue with the Census Bureau about their communication plans and status of preparations for Census 2020.

Fact Sheets and Talking Points

  • Roles for Philanthropy Serving Organizations (PSOs) - Discover useful information to help educate your members on what’s at stake for the 2020 Census and encourage your members to promote a fair and accurate census count. Learn useful tips to use to communicate with policy makers about the need to fully fund the census and partner with local and state officials to ensure a complete count. 
  • Effective Messaging About the Census- Guidelines for communicating effectively about the 2020 Census are grounded in a nationwide survey and focus groups of American voters conducted by Lake Research Partners. 
  • Fact Sheet: The Census And Civil Rights- This document explores why the 2020 census is a civl rights issue; why the census is an urgent issue; principles of a fair and accurate census; and what action is needed.
  • Talking Points on Appropriations for the Census- New talking points to address census appropriations in the skinny budget proposed by the Trump Administration. These new talking points will be helpful for informing members of Congress, their staff, and coalition partners about what’s at stake with this budget proposal.
  • FY2018 U.S. Census Bureau Appropriations- A leave behind for meetings with Congress on why full funding matters.
  • Why We Need the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey- a leave behind for meetings with Congress on the importance of the American Community Survey (ACS).
  • Census 2020 Update: Draft EO on Census Immigration Status Questions- February 8, 2017 policy update regarding the census from Terri Ann Lowenthal, including more details on the White House proposal re immigration status question.