The year is 2020. Across the country snow is melting, spring is just around the corner, and letters from the US Census Bureau are inside every mailbox. These letters will ask each household to record basic demographic data about themselves on an online portal. Many families will follow the link and complete the questionnaire with ease and be counted. But many individuals and households may not. Perhaps they lack reliable internet access. Or they receive the materials in a language they don’t speak. Or they’re fearful that the data being collected will be used against them. If they are young children, Latinos, Asian Americans, African-Americans, renters, low-income, or experiencing homelessness they are at a higher risk for not being fully counted in the census. As a result of an incomplete count, their communities will lose federal funding and political representation, continuing inequalities for another decade.

The decennial census will take place next year regardless of your participation, but WITH your participation the census can go much better for these hard to count communities. In fact, the Census Bureau is nearly doubling the number or partnership strategists (from 800 to 1,500) as a result of the indispensable role nonprofits and other partners have played in prior years. Funder collaboratives and nonprofit advocacy groups are working to impact policy and secure local funding for census operations. As a human service agency, it can be hard to wade through the policy fights, white papers, and operational plans when your community needs your help now. But while those letters won’t reach mailboxes for another year, it’s not too early to devote some of your attention to Census 2020.

Here are two things your nonprofit can do NOW to help ensure a fair and accurate count:

1. Get funding: Funders, nonprofit associations, and state governments are working together to dedicate dollars for get out the count work. Find out what’s happening in your state and apply for funding. If there isn’t a collective effort to resource front-line nonprofits doing count work in your state, start talking to your existing funders about count work. Register for our February 14 webinar on fundraising and don’t miss part two on February 21 on planning your census work.

2. Start talking about it: Media coverage of the census has focused on the citizenship question, which was blocked by a judge in a January ruling, and has been largely negative and fear-based. Your organization can start re-framing the census, for staff and the community you serve, with key messaging points from the Leadership Conference Education Fund. We liked this talking point in particular: “Local community leaders use census data to make decisions about allocating resources for community needs like education, assistance for veterans, hospitals, and transportation.” By reminding people why it matters and why it’s our civic duty you’ll be better situated to engage them in spring 2020.
Organizations can’t do this work alone, so reach out to your local partners and start securing funds and spreading the word – Nonprofits Count.