2020 Census: Nonprofits Step Up to the Challenge

By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the last census and it’s more important than ever to make sure everyone is counted. Nonprofit organizations have a major stake in ensuring that the right level of funding is budgeted based on the results of this census.

“There are serious concerns that children under five years old may be missed, as well as other vulnerable populations who were undercounted in the last census conducted in 2010,” says Brenda B. Asare, President of Alford Group. “A lot is at stake for the next decade and we need our trusted community leaders and nonprofit organizations to help spread the word.”

The Census Impacts Us All

The constitution requires the U.S. government to count the number of people living in the country every 10 years, which directly impacts how much federal funding is allocated based on population. This data informs an estimated $675 billion in federal funding to state agencies and nonprofits across the country to provide:

  • Medicaid
  • Federal Student Loans
  • SNAP
  • State Children’s Health Insurance
  • Head Start
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • New Markets Tax Credit
  • Section 8 Housing
  • School Breakfast Program
  • Crime Victim Assistance
  • And much more

In addition to the programs listed above, the census impacts everything from school district boundaries to the number of congressional seats allocated to your state. Have you thought about how much of your organization’s funding comes from federal sources?

Repercussions of Undercounting

All but five states are providing funding to encourage and help people participate in the 2020 census. As of November 2019, five states (Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas) had not allocated any state funds to help promote the census, creating a special sense of urgency among nonprofit leaders.

When the community is not informed and educated on how to prepare for the census, it will directly impact the programs and services of those communities. Undercounting will negatively impact those most vulnerable by reducing benefits available to their state for the next 10 years.

A Model Program in Florida

Florida lost an estimated $20 billion from 2010 to 2020 in federal funding due to the underrepresentation of its population in the 2010 census. For each person not counted, $1,445 is lost each year over a period of a decade until a new census commences. That created large gaps that nonprofits and faith-based organizations were challenged to close with private philanthropy.

With no state funding to address this continuing loss for Florida, a group of seven nonprofit and philanthropic organizations have united to mobilize, educate, and step up to this challenge. Modeled on a program in Washington State, the ‘Florida Counts’ initiative is raising $2 million to provide grants for nonprofit organizations that have capacity to reach into the vulnerable communities left out before.

One of these organizations includes an Alford Group client, The Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. January Romero Reissman, Vice President for Community Impact, says, “The funds we are distributing will create the best social return on investment we could ever make.” These are the trusted community leaders who have stepped up to support the many Floridians who need these federal dollars secured.”

Nonprofits Lead the Way

As the stakes become clearer, more states mobilize to motivate residents to participate in the 2020 census this spring. We are not surprised that nonprofit organizations are playing a significant role as crucial partners and trusted voices in the communities they serve. Here are some ways nonprofits are spreading the word:

Illinois Action for Children points out on their website promotion, “When children are not counted, funding for programs that families rely on is lost for the next 10 years. That’s most of their childhood!”

The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health gave $2 million to local Texas efforts last month, and the Community Foundations of Texas is part of a Dallas-based and statewide effort to raise money for the same purpose.

Forefront in Chicago launched “Illinois Count Me In 2020”, a statewide coalition targeting hard-to-count communities, are providing safe spaces for self-reporting purposes and helping to educate and canvas. They also brough together foundations to form their Funders Collaborative in support of these efforts.

Census 101: What You Need to Know!

The census counts people by street address. By law, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. That’s protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

The census does not ask for Social Security numbers, credit card information, citizenship information, or political affiliation. The only new feature of the census this year compared to 2010 is that same sex couples who are married can report that.

If you don’t fill out a form and mail it in, call in your household count or fill out an online form, someone you may know from your area will knock on your door to ask for the count of people at your address.

2020 Timeline

March 12-20: The Census Bureau is sending invitations to homes with instructions to mail in the form, go online or use the phone to be counted– calling in or going online are new options this year.

March 30-April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.

April 1: Census Day observed. Everyone should have an invitation by mail to be counted. When you respond to the census, you’ll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.

April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.

Mid-May to July: People employed by the Census Bureau will knock on doors of every address that has not yet responded to make sure everyone is counted.

“People of all ages need to be counted—newborns all the way up to our seniors. Before 2030 people who are infants today will be in our public school system,” explains Lisa Moore, assistant regional census manager for New York (and New England and Puerto Rico).

Moore continues, “The federal funds disseminated in the country based on census data provide for social services, school lunch programs, WIC, roads, highways, hospitals, you name it; census data is tied to it.”

People on the fence about participating are the ones we have a good chance of reaching.

“We have to share with them that it’s safe, quick, easy and matters a great deal to their community,” affirms Asare.

You may be able to coordinate with others in your state to help reach hard-to-count people. Either way, here’s a customizable link to a simple and appealing promotion developed by Alford Group that you can use to disseminate the importance of everyone being counted.


By Amy Hines, Senior Vice President

About Alford Group

Alford Group is a national firm focusing on empowering mission-based organizations with a full range of consultative services from strategic planning to campaign planning. Alford Group partners with clients to incorporate their institutional knowledge with our sector-wide best practices to achieve transformational change. To learn more about our services and our team, please visit our services and staff pages.