How Arizona Foundations Can Ensure an Accurate Census Count

Learn how three nonprofits are supporting on-the-ground efforts for the 2020 census — and why it matters for the state’s philanthropic community.

The Arizona philanthropic community is stepping up to support census efforts in hard-to-reach communities. After all, the 2020 census count determines state funding for the next decade—and those dollars directly impact the public programs we strengthen.

The census touches every single sector of our society, according to Janice Palmer, Helios Education Foundation’s vice president of public policy and government affairs. That’s why nonprofits—from family foundations to social service organizations—are mobilizing to bolster the U.S. Census Bureau and local grassroots efforts.

“Now, more than ever, we see the importance of ensuring that each state receives the necessary federal funds with an accurate-as-possible count,” Palmer said. “These numbers are not going to affect Arizona for just one year, but for 10 years.”

Arizona Community Foundation: Working Today to Reduce Future Pressures

Arizona Community Foundation decided early on to get involved in the census, according to Kim Covington, the foundation’s senior director of community initiatives. Why?

“We were concerned that an undercount would result in fewer resources available for needed improvements within Arizona communities,” Covington said. “This would cause additional pressure to be placed on philanthropy and the nonprofit community to provide substantially more needed basic services.”

To be proactive, the foundation funded nonprofits working to reach underrepresented groups, like communities of color, Native Americans in remote areas and infants—populations the COVID-19 pandemic has made even harder to reach, Covington said. The organization also supplied convening space for regular community meetings to improve outreach and solve census challenges.

Covington said the key is being supportive and sharing information often, with other organizations and constituents. “Nonprofits have ‘trusted advisor’ status in communities where trust does not generally exist.  These communities come to nonprofits for support and confidence is built based on that relationship,” she said.

Helios Education Foundation: Bringing Philanthropy Together for One Goal

Janice Palmer joined Gov. Doug Ducey’s Arizona Complete Count Committee as its philanthropic partnership liaison in the fall of 2019. Palmer said supporting the census efforts was a natural fit for Helios Education Foundation.

“We focus on early grade success, college and career readiness, and post-secondary education—many of the funding items that come from the census count,” Palmer said. It’s a way to ensure kids get the health and educational opportunities, from Head Start to Pell Grants, they deserve.

This is especially critical for Latino student success, a cornerstone of Helios’ Arizona strategy. In 2010, Maricopa County was the second-highest county to undercount Latino kids under age 5. Those 27,000 undercounted children represent about $81 million in missed funding annually, Palmer said.

Armed with just over $1 million, the committee started work right away to advance the local grassroots census plans. Palmer formed the philanthropy subcommittee, which included Arizona Grantmakers Forum, Arizona Community Foundation, Vitalyst Health Foundation, United Way and others. The group meets monthly to figure out how to better reach undercounted populations, like Latinos, children and tribal residents. It’s a mission all nonprofits can get behind.

“At the most simplistic level, Arizona’s kids and residents deserve their fair share of federal resources that we pay into,” Palmer said. “If we don’t receive those funds, the reality is that either our residents go without or we have to subsidize them with tax or other increases.”

Vitalyst Health Foundation: Ensuring a Constitutional Right

You can’t have healthy communities without a healthy democracy, according to David Martinez III, Vitalyst Health Foundation’s director of capacity building and community engagement. A proper census count guarantees federal health-care funding for programs like Medicaid, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Vitalyst has financially supported a handful of on-the-ground census efforts specific to Arizona, including One Arizona, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the City of Phoenix (alongside grantmaker Phoenix IDA) and a collaborative of refugee resettlement organizations.

“We’re collaborating really closely with other funding partners to make sure hard-to-count communities are counted,” Martinez said, highlighting undocumented, mixed-status and refugee residents. “According to the Constitution, any person in the country should be counted, no matter their citizenship.”

Martinez said healthcare programs—and the funding they need—are more important now than ever. And he also recognizes why it’s a big ask to expect nonprofits to talk about the census during a public health crisis. “It’s so hard, especially if you’re a nonprofit working in health and human services and are seeing more people in need on their front doors, to take on an additional task of encouraging people to complete the census,” he said.

But Martinez said they’re encouraging people to nudge others to complete the census. It also has a new online format, so residents can fill it out “in the comfort and safety and health of their own home.”