Funding an Equitable 2020 Census Count

The Census Equity Fund and #WeCountOregon

A census count that accurately reflects our state’s population will bring in millions of dollars in additional annual federal funds to build and repair infrastructure and help our most vulnerable residents, who are especially hard hit now.

Historically, the census has missed large numbers of low-income people, Native people, immigrants and refugees, people of color, people living in rural communities, children under 5 years old, house-less people and renters. This undercount results in our state losing millions of dollars annually in federal funding that would support infrastructure and social safety net programs that our communities need, especially now. In 2010, Oregon also lost out on an additional congressional seat due to our undercount.

The Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon (CEFCO) is a collaborative of philanthropic organizations working to reduce the undercount in the 2020 census to ensure Oregon has the resources it needs, including an additional congressional seat. OCF and Gray Family Foundation, a supporting organization of OCF, both support the Census Equity Fund of Oregon, recognizing the importance of ensuring all people in Oregon are counted.

To learn more about any aspect of this work, which is more fully described below, please reach out to Lauren Gottfredson, Senior Manager of Community Collaborations at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, at laureng@unitedway-pdx.org.


The outreach campaign #WeCountOregon was born from an alliance between CEFCO and Dancing Hearts Consulting, a political consulting firm led by Founder and Principal Esperanza Tervalon-Garrett, who describes herself as a queer, Afro-Puerto Rican woman. #WeCountOregon uses culturally specific and regionally appropriate strategies to engage communities in areas without regular mail delivery, households that use Post Office Box addresses, and census tracts and rural counties with low response rates to ensure every Oregonian completes the 2020 Census.

  • The campaign is co-designed and co-implemented by people of color-led, community-based organizations committed to reaching hard-to-count communities. 
  • Census equity coordinators with 48 partnering organizations work directly with the campaign, lead field efforts and ensure that community allies and partners are engaged in the census.
  • A comprehensive, data-driven, culturally specific outreach and communications plan resulted in materials in 14 languages distributed via wecountoregon.com.

Census Assistance Centers—service organizations, community nonprofits or public agencies where hard-to-count people can fill out their census online—are vital to reaching hard-to-count populations. #WeCountOregon relies on Census Assistance Centers’ “trusted messengers” (census-trained staff and volunteers) in every county to encourage hard-to-count populations to complete the census. #WeCountOregon is additionally providing dedicated support to Oregon tribes and Indian communities to encourage full participation while recognizing their sovereignty and autonomy.

#WeCountOregon and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic hit within the first couple of weeks of the start of the census. #WeCountOregon quickly shifted campaign strategies to continue engaging hard-to-count Oregonians while following the Governor’s stay home order. Strategies include:

  • Shifting in-person regional, culturally specific census day events to online formats.
  • Suspending door-to-door field operations and moving field teams to work from home to do phone and text bank outreach.
  • Providing remote support to community members from Census Assistance Centers utilizing digital platforms.
  • Increasing use of targeted social media, digital ads and radio and aligning with COVID-19 messaging to ensure broader outreach.
  • Distributing information through partner social safety net programs including food boxes, free meals at schools and homework packets.

#WeCountOregon campaign success as of July 1:

Oregon now ranks 19th nationally for census self-response rates—a notable improvement from 25th in 2010.

  • Trained 11,072 Census Assistance Center staff and volunteers to serve as "trusted messengers" on the census (already surpassing the goal of 10,000).
  • Made 158,554 contacts toward a goal of 200,000.
  • Adopted virtual volunteer days where volunteers phone and text bank their own friends and family, a strategy used by a number of other states successfully.
  • Developed over 100 partnerships across the state to promote census completion.
  • Recruited 48 partners to serve as Census Assistance Centers across all 36 Oregon counties.
  • Continuing investment in Oregon, including creating 196 jobs through the field teams, in addition to jobs created through partnerships and investing in local artists and vendors.
  • Shifted the in-person April 1 Census Day events to an online event that garnered nearly 500 participants and 6,000 views on social media.
  • Hosted culturally specific regional events for hundreds of participants, so far including Census and Sovereignty, Black Like Me (Juneteenth), and Nuestra Gente Presente Latinx Census Day.

Extending the Campaign

Due to COVID-19, the U.S. Census Bureau delayed all field operations, which slowly restarted in Oregon on May 15. Consequently, the self-response period was extended to August 11 (originally April 30), and the enumeration period (the time to conduct a complete and thorough count) was extended through September 30 (originally July 24).

With these shifts and extensions, CEFCO and #WeCountOregon will extend the campaign through September to support community outreach beyond the initial campaign timeline of July. CEFCO seeks funds to support campaign infrastructure, communications and media, grants to partner organizations and community education, engagement, and empowerment around redistricting.

What Can You Do?

Now is the time to get involved, to support our communities and uphold our democracy by ensuring a fair and accurate census in spite of the many barriers we face in 2020. OCF encourages support of the Census Equity Fund of Oregon’s the #WeCountOregon campaign enters its final critical weeks.

  • Participate – Get involved by attending the Census Equity Fund meetings to keep up with census developments around Oregon.
  • Invest - Contribute to the Census Equity Fund of Oregon through fiscal agent United Way of the Columbia-Willamette to support census engagement. It’s the only fund in the country pooling private and public dollars together for census success—and you can be part of this innovative cross-sector collaboration, too.
  • Connect – Engage your colleagues, peers, and friends in census activity and outreach. We can use your help in building out our network; convene a group of stakeholders and we will come present on our work. Or, connect with us for one-on-one networking.

To participate, invest or connect in the Census Equity Fund, please contact Lauren Gottfredson, Senior Manager of Community Collaborations at United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, at laureng@unitedway-pdx.org.