Census 2010: 10 Minutes Now for 10 Years of Benefits

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of MNA Links, a publication of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. It is written by Sam Singh, census consultant for MNA, and republished with permission.

In just a few short months, hundreds of thousands of Census questionnaires will be mailed to residents across the state to gather critical information about our communities and the state as a whole; information that will be used to determine how to distribute millions of dollars in federal funding.

The 2010 Census is an extraordinary opportunity for Michigan – and the nonprofit community – to rebuild our state.

So this time around, we’re planning ahead.

Ten years ago, Michigan was severely undercounted in the 2000 Census. It is estimated that more than 70,000 people were missed, costing the state of Michigan millions in federal funding. With a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, the 2010 Census is critical to Michigan’s future.

Thankfully, the US Census Bureau revamped the Census, making it easier and far less time consuming to participate. What was once an intimidating, extensive questionnaire filled with dozens of questions is now a simple 10-question survey. This time, the Census is quick – take 10 minutes of time for 10 years of support to your community.

The Census isn’t just about counting our residents – it’s about making sure our residents count. Census data is used to determine political representation; where to build new roads, schools, and businesses; where services for the elderly and the homeless are necessary; and where jobs and job programs are needed.

The nonprofit community is uniquely positioned to dramatically strengthen and improve this year’s census participation because you often directly serve these hard-to-count populations. The Nonprofits Count! in Michigan campaign is committed to preparing nonprofits with the training, materials and resources they need to ensure that their constituents and communities are accurately represented and counted. No sector is stronger and better positioned to meet the challenge of achieving a complete count.

How can we meet that challenge?
First, we must raise awareness of the Census far before March of 2010. Michigan’s historically undercounted residents – immigrants, people of color, low-income families, and those who are highly mobile and live in complex households – walk in and out of our doors every day. We must capitalize on our opportunities to talk about the census in everyday contact through your communications, services and activities. Talk about what the Census is and promote participation by citing the benefits of a complete count.

As trusted members in the community, we can help minimize traditional barriers to participation and put residents at ease by addressing their concerns and answering their questions. Let them know it’s quick, easy, and confidential. Most importantly, tell them what’s at stake – for themselves, their families and their community.

We must make our mission to achieve a complete count a community wide effort by reaching out to community leaders, lawmakers, neighborhood groups, and religious-based organizations. Partner with other local nonprofits and contact your local census office to coordinate educational meetings and events informing your communities about their rights, responsibilities and the importance of participating in the Census.

The Nonprofits Count! in Michigan campaign has a Census Toolkit available for nonprofit organizations across the state, complete with language specific messaging, informational materials and strategies to engage undercounted residents. In addition to the toolkit, MNA’s census web page, www.MNAonline.org/census.asp, is filled with resources about how your nonprofit can be part of the 2010 Census.

Public education is essential for a complete count. Urge members of your community to take 10: take 10 minutes to answer 10 questions for 10 years of benefits. Arm your offices with census materials, incorporate census education into daily activities and utilize committed staff and volunteers to ensure our communities are accurately represented and counted.

Everyday we challenge ourselves to make a difference. Make the most of the opportunity to shape the future of our state – and our sector – by joining the movement to make the 2010 Census an unprecedented success for all of us.