Unprecedented: Philanthropic Leaders Call for Removal of Citizenship Question from 2020 Census

August 24, 2018

The philanthropic community relies on census data to guide philanthropic reach, impact and effectiveness. Philanthropic leaders use census data to understand community and demographic trends and inform fact-based decisions on long-term investments and grants. Inaccurate census data could divert federal resources from communities in need, forcing philanthropy to fill these gaps, while decreasing the effectiveness of these investments. One of the most concerning threats to a full census count is the addition of a new and untested question about citizenship status to the 2020 census form.

Census citizenship question image
Image Credit: Funders Committee for Civic Participation

Reflecting an unprecedented consensus in philanthropy from local foundations to national grantmaking organizations, 304 philanthropic leaders – including more than 30 Philanthropy Northwest members – recently called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to withdraw a citizenship question from the 2020 census.

In a public comment letter submitted to the Commerce Department ahead of an August 7 deadline, the large collection of foundation presidents and chief executives, trustees and others speaking for their organizations said the question would “significantly undermine efforts to achieve a fair and accurate census in 2020.” The letter continues:

We have different funding priorities, are ideologically diverse, and do not always agree with each other. But we wholeheartedly agree that the citizenship question should not be part of the 2020 Census.

The Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation shared the letter online, with a complete list of signatories. Questions about this letter may be sent to Gary Bass at gbass@baumanfoundation.org.  


Photo Credit: U.S. Census Bureau

Philanthropy Northwest Joins the Call

Philanthropy Northwest is committed to promoting a fair and accurate census count in our region. Philanthropy Northwest joined a separate letter to the Commerce Department submitted by United Philanthropy Forum on behalf of 33 regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs). This PSO letter added that the joining organizations represent thousands of philanthropic members and constituents who “are supporting research, education, outreach, and other efforts to help [the Census Bureau] fulfill our mutual goal of a fair and accurate count . . . The citizenship question unnecessarily adds to the challenge by increasing the hesitancy of nonprofits and trusted community leaders to encourage participation in the census.”

The full text of the letter, with a complete list of signatories, is available on the United Philanthropy Forum website. Questions about this letter may be sent to Maggie Osborn at maggie@unitedphilforum.org.

Recognizing the importance of weighing in on the specific impacts of the citizenship question to the communities served across our network, Philanthropy Northwest also submitted our own letter to the Commerce Department. Philanthropy Northwest CEO Kiran Ahuja noted, “The vast Northwest region includes many communities that are hard-to-count . . . Indeed, the largest shares of philanthropic funding to the Northwest focus on supporting historically underserved communities,” including the economically disadvantaged, children, Alaska Natives and Native Americans, immigrants and refugees, and other communities of color.

You can read Philanthropy Northwest’s letter on our website.

Philanthropy Northwest recognizes the many organizations in our membership who joined the funders’ sign-on letter and/or submitted letters of their own, contributing to an unprecedented collective voice across philanthropy on this important issue. Across all sectors, more than 250,000 individuals and organizations submitted comments opposing the citizenship question.