Have you ever attended a family reunion where you didn’t know a soul?
It may sound improbable, but this summer I was a first-time attendee at a national reunion of the descendants of two German brothers who emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1730s.
At this gathering I didn’t know any of the dozens of my relatives (except, I confess, my history-loving brother who recruited me for the trip). These new acquaintances reported that I am just one of more than 10,000 living U.S. “cousins” who are descended from these long-dead ancestors.
Free Tools, Free Data, Free Help
So how do we know we’re all related and, more importantly, why should you care?
One valuable tool of avid genealogists is data from the U.S. Census. My newfound cousins have used handwritten entries on census forms from decades long past to reveal interesting information about parents, siblings, births and deaths, residences, occupations and much more.
But that’s ancient history. Today’s U.S. Census and American Community Survey data are rich repositories of information that you can use to build support for your nonprofit cause.
Free government data sources and tools, such as American Fact Finder, can help you sort, compare and configure data — about age, education, employment, poverty, housing, race & ethnicity and a seemingly endless variety of other topics. Plus, you can slice the data into tiny geographies in order to present persuasive evidence of community needs and illustrate clearly your programmatic impact.
And you don’t need to be a data geek or computer whiz to access useful information. At a recent U.S. Census workshop co-hosted by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, data dissemination specialist Ryan Dolan almost begged attendees to call or email his government colleagues or him to assist with data searches.
Minnesotans for the American Community Survey
While you’re using these free resources, don’t take them for granted. Also present at the workshop was a representative of the Minnesota State Demographic Center who updated everyone on recent challenges to the American Community Survey and threats to U.S. Census funding.
She spoke on behalf of Minnesotans for the American Community Survey (MACS), a coalition of concerned citizens, business leaders, educators, social service providers and others who have joined together to educate elected officials and the public about the importance of census data to drive a strong economy and improve the well-being of all Minnesotans.
MACS supporters are not political. They are simply people like you and me who believe in data-driven policies and actions.
Make the Census Count
So whether you’re counting cousins or keeping tabs on community needs and organizational outcomes, use the U.S. Census. It’s free, it’s accurate and it’s easy to access. And while you’re at it, tell your elected officials to maintain funding and current participation rules for this vital public resource.