Dogwood Health Trust’s investment of $1.5 million to improve Census response rates across the region resulted in Western North Carolina outperforming the state and nation in terms of improving counts from 2010 and will likely yield $18 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

The U.S. Census response rate increased by .5 percent from 2010; North Carolina decreased by 1.4 percentage points. In contrast, Western North Carolina, where Dogwood concentrated its efforts, increased their response rate by 2.2 percent, going from 47.7 percent in 2010 to 49.9 percent as of Oct. 17. Across North Carolina, 32 counties exceeded their 2010 response rates; 10 of those counties are in Western North Carolina. In addition, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians nearly tripled their counts from 2010. 

“The 2020 Census, like many other events this year, was dramatically impacted by the arrival of COVID-19,” said Betsey Russell, senior director of communications for Dogwood Health Trust and Census team lead.

In Western North Carolina, as across the nation, 2020 Census partnership specialists were pulled from their field-based face-to-face mission of educating, engaging, and encouraging leaders, organizations, counties, and communities to support a complete and accurate 2020 Census count. As of July, census counts in Western North Carolina counties appeared to lag behind the national and state average.

“We saw an opportunity to use our resources to leverage more funding and deliver significant benefit for our region,” Russell said.

The Census team developed an incentivized philanthropic approach to increasing 2020 Census self-response rates in Dogwood’s 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary. In addition to advertisements, Dogwood provided financial support for counties to aid the work of their Complete Count Committees, and for nonprofit organizations that partnered directly with Dogwood to increase the count. The effort ran from late June through Oct.15 (the end of the Census count).

“This success is really because of the all-out efforts of our partners,” Russell said. “We supported some advertising, but they did the on-the-ground leg work, reaching out to their networks and beyond to make sure the people of Western North Carolina counted in this Census.”

Dogwood Health Trust is a North Carolina nonprofit corporation with the sole purpose of dramatically improving the health and well-being of all people and communities of Western North Carolina. Dogwood Health Trust was created from the net proceeds of the sale of Mission Hospital and focuses on innovative ways to address the many factors that contribute to overall health and wellness. To learn more, visit