Giving Compass' Take:

• Jim Fruchterman explains how funders can invest in civic tech to unleash the scaleable potential for democracy. 

• How can technology advance your philanthropic goals? Is census 2020 the right cause for you to engage with? 

• Learn more about census 2020

The right tech tools can be a force multiplier for good. The same technology used by businesses to motivate people to buy things can be used to motivate people to complete the census. The same technology that makes it easy for people to find the answers they want can quickly answer questions about the census—answers otherwise buried in a census call center manual. The same technology that has been incredibly effective for political campaigns to get out the vote can be easily adapted to get out the count.

Some donors are leading the way, recognizing the added leverage of this grantmaking opportunity. Last year, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation provided a $280,000 grant to CommunityConnect Labs, a nonprofit helping governments and service providers use mobile messaging to connect with hard-to-reach populations. Their tech-enabled, on-the-ground project identified 2 percent more addresses for census takers to visit in the areas with the hardest to count populations. Based on projected funding formulas of $2,000 per capita, a 2 percent greater count would lead to an additional $300 million in federal funding to local governments in the foundation’s region over ten years. There aren’t many opportunities available to donors which deliver a social return on investment at this scale.

Donors and advocates can support the civil rights community to use better technology to overcome the wave of misinformation that is sure to come. Politically active donors could channel a bit of their expected 2020 spend on voter turnout efforts towards get out the count efforts with similar software tools and databases. As a matter of fact, some groups are already exploring how to combine get-out-the-count efforts with voter registration. Political organizations such as the Asian American advocacy group 18 Million Rising and the leadership and organizational development group New Left Accelerator have been searching for funding to bring experts from get-out-the-vote efforts together with census experts to see if these two communities could work together to increase engagement in the 2020 count.

Read the full article about the potential of civic tech by Jim Fruchterman at Stanford Social Innovation Review.