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Nonprofit, philanthropic groups join forces to focus on accurate Census counts in state Infographic by Rachel Harper

Nonprofit, philanthropic groups join forces to focus on accurate Census counts in state

BY Sunday, November 26, 2017 03:59pm

LANSING — Major players in Michigan’s philanthropic sector have joined forces to raise $4 million to finance a three-year campaign to ensure each state resident is counted in the 2020 Census.

While such an effort may not appear to fit with what many consider to be the traditional role of nonprofits, the groups have plenty riding on the state getting an accurate count, said Joan Bowman, external affairs officer with the Lansing-based Michigan Nonprofit Association.

“More than $600 billion is available to fund programs like Head Start, foster care and free school lunch programs. In 2015, (Michigan’s) allotment was $15 billion,” Bowman said. “Forty-three percent of our state’s budget relies on federal funding, putting us second behind the state of Mississippi. That’s what’s at stake.”

The MNA and the Council of Michigan Foundations are leading the 2020 Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign, which already has received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

According to Eric Guthrie, Michigan’s State Demographer, getting an accurate count of all Michiganders remains important because the access to federal funding and the projects they support that are based on Census numbers could be affected.

A less-than-accurate count will affect funding for the decade following the 2020 Census, he said.

“The Census is often a base for any statistics moving forward,” Guthrie said. “We see that some groups seem to be more apprehensive when the government comes knocking on their doors and asking questions.”

For this reason, Bowman said the campaign will have a number of elements, including a Count Committee that will provide outreach guidance and a “get out the count” effort. She said the effort will target hard-to-count groups, especially immigrants and some minority populations, people who live in poverty, and children.

While the state’s philanthropic sector is focusing on the implications an accurate count will have on federal funding, the Census data could also determine Michigan’s representation at the federal level, Guthrie said.

Ensuring accurate Census counts remains essential for the fair distribution of the country’s 435 Congressional seats, Bowman said. 

“The count comes first and based on that count, Congressional districts are redrawn,” she said. “We have 14 now, but depending on how those districts are redrawn, that could go down to 13. For foundations and some nonprofits, that can sound kind of political. For us, the Census is a civic engagement effort and we’re not looking ahead to other elements.”

Census statistics guide philanthropic strategies and goals, Bowman said, adding that the philanthropic sector is almost always called on to fill in social and economic gaps for the state’s residents.

“There’s no way that the foundation community and nonprofits can take the place of the federal government,” she said. “If people don’t get counted, under the current funding assessments, Michigan stands to lose $1,800 per resident, per year in federal dollars.”

The 2020 campaign represents the second time the MNA and CMF have partnered to get accurate Census counts. A similar campaign was developed for the 2010 Census, but that was a one-year effort with less funding.

Board members with the MNA and CMF co-signed letters to Gov. Rick Snyder and state legislators advocating the state allocate sufficient funds for the Census work, said Debra McKeon, senior vice president of membership services for the CMF.

“For over one year, we have been part of a national consortium that has done research and analyzed because the conditions in our country have changed, and getting an accurate count in 2020 is going to be more difficult,” McKeon said. “We have to start sooner and build public and private partnerships. We’re working with foundations in Michigan and advocating at the state and federal level for policy.”

While the federal government will hire enumerators to gather data for the 2020 Census, Michigan Nonprofits’ count campaign will rely on direct outreach to ensure more accurate counts. In particular, the focus for nonprofits is talking to constituents and clients to increase awareness.

“It may be people going door to door, talking to people at events, or a neighborhood service organization in Detroit that serves many in the homeless population,” Bowman said. “It may look different in Flint than it does in the Upper Peninsula. Depending on where we’re seeing big undercounts, we may direct resources in other areas.”

Bowman said money raised to fund the campaign will enable the distribution of mini-grants to nonprofits to support their field work. The groups are developing tools and trainings for the nonprofit sector for their outreach efforts.

“One thing we’ve learned is that nonprofits are trusted in their communities,” Bowman said. “They have established relationships and speak the community’s language and because of the role nonprofits play, they’re going to be most successful in counting those hard-to-count populations. We will ask stakeholders about the best way to talk to these communities.”

The determination of an area’s hard-to-count score is based on a number of factors, Guthrie said.

“Often these persons are existing on the economic margins or minorities who are less likely to be counted,” Guthrie said, adding that younger children who live with their grandparents often go uncounted.

“It’s important to think about. Some people think about this as a government activity,” said McKeon of the CMF. “We need the organizations that are most trusted by people who feel most comfortable reporting and being reached out to by them and those are community and statewide organizations and the nonprofit sectors.”

The risk of not being counted leads to an inequality in political power and funding, Bowman said.

“There are a number of states working on this like we are,” she said. “We know what we know and we do what we do because of the Census data. Our work depends on that.” 

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