By: Martha Cecilia Ovadia, Senior Program Associate, Equity and Communications

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the U.S. Census.

In addition to informing the distribution of political representation, census data is the basis for allocation of more than $600 billion in federal aid to states, localities, and families each year, and guides investments by state and local government as well as private entities.

Historically, the census has undercounted poor and marginalized populations, and a number of added factors may prevent a full and accurate census count in 2020. These include delayed and insufficient funding, a new online administration process and, if upheld by courts, the decision to add a question about citizenship to the census questionnaire.

Through their communications, convening, and grantmaking powers, funders have been proactively involved in ensuring an accurate census count.

If you’ve been on the census sidelines to date, take heart: There’s still time for meaningful funder engagement.

In recognition of Census Day — which marks the one-year milestone before the April 1, 2020 kick-off of the U.S. Census — TFN is sharing this round-up of initial actions funders can take to help ensure an accurate and equitable collection of census data.

1.) Join the Funders’ Census Initiative (FCI) Working Group.Supported by the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP), the working group provides access to census timelines, updates, analyses, and a trove of helpful resources, from which these recommendations were adapted.

2.) Download the Census Counts Campaign Toolkit. A fount of information, the toolkit details the multiple ways funders can contribute to the census and provides numerous templates and other guides to action.

3.) Secure your organization’s commitment to the census.Coordinated effort by foundation staff and trustees can help carry the message about the importance of the census to wide-ranging audiences. See the FCI toolkit template with sample language on how to make an internal case for census involvement.

4.) Connect with other funders in your state, region, or local area. Figure out who is working on census issues and whether there’s an action plan that you can plug into. If funders aren’t organized, create a table to mobilize effort and ensure alignment. (Contact Ashish Sinha at for a list of funders working on the census in your state).

5.) Get involved in your State Complete Count Committee (CCC), or encourage state officials to form and fund one. State CCCs are enacted by executive order or legislation and create a vehicle for formal partnership between the state, tribal and local governments, civic organizations and the Census Bureau. CCCs raise public awareness of the census and develop an outreach strategy to ensure a complete count.

6.) Convene your grantees and develop your ground game.Community organizations can assist in developing a local plan to count hard-to-reach populations and may form their own CCCs to reach out to their constituents. Since state funding may not be adequate to ensure a complete count, foundations can play a critical role by funding local organizations to do this important work.

Additional recommendations about how to get involved, including information on how to contribute to pooled grant funding to support a robust census process, can be found in the FCI toolkit.

Census News

Inside Philanthropy
Census 2020: How is philanthropy responding to the citizenship question?
City Lab
A visual history of the U.S. census
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Every person counts: why the census must be rescued
The Atlantic
The Weaponized Census
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Philanthropy and the 2020 census: A once-in-a-decade chance to get it right
Forefront: Engaging for Impact
The inequity of an inaccurate census: Why it matters to philanthropy