Community Leadership

Community Leadership Initiative to Encourage Participation in the 2020 Decennial Census

Every ten years, households across America receive an invitation to complete the decennial census, a constitutionally mandated process to count every resident. Voluntary participation is critical for securing an accurate, “complete” count that decisionmakers use to reshape political boundaries and to dispense $1.5 trillion in funding each year, yet about one in five Northern Virginians—172,000 households—were considered at risk of not responding to the 2020 census.

To reach this population and increase self-response rates among the general and hard-to-count populations, the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia launched Count the Region, an initiative that promoted broad census participation through the formation of a Northern Virginia Complete Count Committee and a smaller subcommittee of local government staff. These individuals worked together to develop structures that facilitated ongoing communication and information exchange; to create and deliver unified, hyper-local messages about the value of this work; and to secure resources for communities that needed extra support to reach the hard-to-count households.

The region saw a tremendous increase in census responses from its general and hard-to-count populations. An estimated 79 percent of households in Northern Virginia responded to the Census, up from 74 percent in 2010 while the national average remained unchanged at 67 percent. Approximately 70 percent of households in Northern Virginia’s hard-to-count tracts self-responded to the Census, an increase of 2.1 percentage points from 2010, compared to an overall decline in the response rate nationally and in other parts of Virginia.

The success of Count the Region and other local efforts to increase census promotion produced a number of lessons learned that have application not just to future census efforts, but to other community organizing activities that rely on building trust, understanding, and community.

Every Voice Counts: A Guide and Report on Count the Region