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Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Census Funders & Grantees May 2020 Survey Results

Friday, May 22, 2020
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The Census Bureau began mailing 2020 Census invitations to a majority of households in mid-March, right when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic and social distancing and shelter-in-place orders were implemented in states and communities across the country. As a result, funders and their grantees needed to adjust years’ worth of planning to prioritize the health and safety of their staff and communities since they could not execute census engagement — like in-person events, questionnaire assistance, and door-to-door canvassing — as originally envisioned. At the same time, the Census Bureau announced operational adjustments of its own to comply with federal, state, and local guidance.

It was during this initial adjustment period that the Census Subgroup and Funders Census Initiative developed and distributed a survey to their funder networks to capture and understand how philanthropic institutions and the organizations they support were adjusting their work in response to the pandemic.

Funders Census Initiative then developed a report based on the survey results, which is available here: READ THE REPORT

Report Overview

  • Funders have responded quickly to support their census grantees. For example, 93% of respondents are offering flexibility of grant deliverables, 83 percent are offering extended grant timelines, 33% are providing additional census funding, and 22% are offering additional general operating support. 
  • Uncertainty is impacting all of the work, including the lack of clarity on the Census Bureau’s operational timeline and whether or not state and local governments will offer flexibility for census grant deliverables, timelines, or reporting. 
  • Funders' assessment of their grantee’s most urgent needs are broad, but -- not surprisingly -- flexibility and general operating support topped the list of priorities. 69% and 63% of respondents rated flexibility and general operating support, respectively, as a “very urgent” need. As organizations have adjusted their operations and census programs from in-person engagement, support to address this shift as well as the digital divide are also urgent needs. This includes rural outreach strategies, internet access, paid or earned media, digital organizing capacity, technology tools, and list-building capacity. 
  • Organizations are demonstrating resilience, flexibility, and creativity through new methods of census engagement to reach historically undercounted communities. This includes approaches that leverage census resources and infrastructure to respond to COVID-19 such as dual mailings  and an effort to convert census champions into COVID-19 response captains; pairing census promotion with meal and service delivery as well as online instruction; celebratory and educational digital outreach like census dance parties, town halls, faith services, and questionnaire assistance; text and phone banking; and other creative, socially distant approaches like contests, signs at grocery stores and gas stations, and, sidewalk chalking. 
  • Funders expressed compassion and concern for their grantee partners, both for the short-term impact that COVID-19 is having on nonprofits’ operations and programming -- including the overlap with Get-Out-the-Vote efforts -- and the impact that the resulting financial crisis will have on their long-term viability.
     
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