Crisis, Necessity and Innovation: Adapting Census Outreach During a Pandemic

man seated at table holds red ipad

By Nelson Beckford, Program Director, Neighborhood Revitalization & Engagement

A complete census count is incredibly important. U.S. census data is used to direct the flow of billions of dollars in federal spending, it helps decide political representation at all levels, and it is the go-to data set for the private, philanthropic and government sectors. (For more about why census data matters, check out this blog.)  

Early in 2019, we joined community partners in crafting a census outreach and mobilization approach that was simple and straightforward. We moved away from a top-down plan to one that is decentralized and emphasized working with community-based organizations that hold the trust of hard-to-count communities.   

Trusted voices, trusted spaces and personalized messaging was the approach. Let me explain. People follow advice from people they trust. These trusted voices could be a soccer coach or a pastor. We asked our partners to host census gatherings in places where people feel welcomed, like parks, libraries and churches (trusted spaces). Finally, we decided against one centralized message and instead we asked our partners to develop individual messages that appeal to the people they serve (personalized messaging). With this framework, we launched a round of microgrants and announced the first round of grant recipients in March.  

Then, the world changed with COVID19.

With a ban on public gatherings and the closure of ‘trusted spaces’ like churches and libraries, we had to pivot and find new solutions. Trusted voices evolved to become ‘social media influencers’ or a person in your network (a client, colleague or board member) that has a large social media following. Zoom “town hall” meetings, websites, social media platforms and electronic newsletters became the virtual trusted spaces. The final component, personalized messaging, is even more relevant today. Census data is used to allocate resources for emergency preparedness and the resulting response. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

How can you help? Fill out the census, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Please don’t wait. It takes only minutes to complete the census form, but it will affect you, your family and the entire region for the next 10 years. For more information and resources related to the census, stop by our virtual ‘bulletin board’ at