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Making Dollars Count: Philanthropy and the 2020 Census

Census 2020 has been in the spotlight this year. The census can at times be controversial, because it’s more than a dataset. It defines what we call ourselves, how we see ourselves, and how we’re represented. It defines our story, as Americans, and serves as a pillar of our democracy. The founders included the mandatory headcount in our constitution to empower the governed, granting us representation and resources based on the population of our communities—a bold new idea, separating this newly formed nation from previous rule.

LVCF is taking a leadership role in the Lehigh Valley to invest staff-time, resources, and funding to ensure every person is counted in the Census 2020. We understand that funding and government representation is at stake for our communities. Moreover, we know the impact that a potential undercount in the census will have on our main partners in this work—philanthropists and nonprofits.

So what exactly is at stake?

In Pennsylvania, we receive $39 billion dollars each year from census-derived data to support federal programs ranging from investments in infrastructure and technology to supporting healthcare and education. In 2010, there were many areas of the Lehigh Valley in which 30% or more of a census tract did not respond to the census.  An undercount of the estimated 670,000 Lehigh Valley residents puts federal funding at risk, while also decreasing the amount of representation our community has in government. Current census predictions show Pennsylvania losing one congressional seat after the 2020 census.  Unfortunately, there is increased national risk of an inaccurate count due to underfunding of the census bureau, the launch of a new online platform, and an atmosphere of polarization.

Why should you care?

An undercount will increase the demands placed on the area’s nonprofits and the philanthropic community to try to fill the gap of decreased federal funds and services.  We can do more with our philanthropic resources when we and the government have accurate census data. Nonprofits can do more to serve their missions without the disruption of federal program funding for their many constituents. Instead of needing to make up that gap, we are proactively funding efforts and investing resources to ensure a complete and accurate count. We must tell an accurate story of the Lehigh Valley’s growth, resilience, and prosperity, but this relies on each of us participating in our democracy—just as the founder’s had intended.

What You Can Do...

In the face of Census 2020 challenges, national foundations and philanthropists all over the United States have stepped up—and community foundations have a special role to play.  After all, we are made up of philanthropists like you, those that have a passion for community and are focused on place-based impact.  There is no better return on investment than ensuring the Lehigh Valley receives the correct federal allocation of funding and is represented adequately in our government.

Please fill out the census, and tell your neighbors to fill it out. Everyone counts, from urban to rural areas, all age groups and ethnicities.

Contribute to the local efforts by joining a Complete Count Committee or integrating census messages into your organization’s work.  

Consider a gift to the Census Equity Fund, a regional funding vehicle launched by LVCF in response to this important initiative.  

Giving to the Census Equity Fund is easy! LVCF fundholders with donor-advised funds can find the “Census Equity Fund” as a grantee in DonorCentral.

We have learned that a successful effort involves five actions: Train; Champion; Partner; Promote; and Fund.  Resources are needed to be successful. The Lehigh Valley Census Equity Fund will support these actions in our community.  As administrator of the fund, LVCF is here to oversee and coordinate efforts on a regional-level, including convening nonprofit grantees to share leading practices, lagging efforts, and successful results.

Census support from the philanthropic community is more important in 2020 than ever before. Contact us to learn more about how you can partner with us to get out the count!