Mobilizing a Complete and Accurate Count of Every Person in New York City

In late 2018, a group of business, government, community, faith, and industry leaders came together, led by Chairman Steven Rubenstein, to answer the question: how do we come together to work toward a better New York for the future? The answer was unconventional but undoubtedly important: ensure a fair and accurate count on the decennial Census.

The Association for a Better New York’s (ABNY’s) role was integral and multifold: ABNY supported and supplemented Census efforts underway by the U.S. Census Bureau, the State of New York, and the City of New York and was informed by the advocacy and organizing work of New York Counts 2020 and trusted community-based organizations and partners across the five boroughs.

To fill the gaps and provide support, ABNY embarked on an ambitious and evidence-based work plan anchored in five key pillars:


Worked with the U.S. Census Bureau, the City and State of New York, New York Counts 2020, community-based nonprofit organizations, and the business community to lead a coordinated 2020 Census effort to maximize resources and access to the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Steven Rubenstein and Darren Walker of the Census Committee

Convened an Organizing & Action Committee with leaders from healthcare, labor, philanthropy, and nonprofit sectors to conceive and direct a citywide Census action plan.


Activated more than fifty leading partners across sectors to amplify accurate information and empower trusted networks to encourage their communities to complete the Census.

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Created Census In A Box—which served as the most accurate and helpful resources for Census advocates—to streamline strategy development and ensure a shared baseline of information.

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Hosted the New York City Census Summit in Fall 2019 with 14 organizing coalition partners and more than 400 attendees.


Developed an evidence-based project with original commissioned research through poll testing, surveys, and focus groups to understand how New Yorkers engage with the Census and to create accessible and culturally competent messaging for all New Yorkers.

Quinnipiac University

Partnered with Quinnipiac University to conduct a poll that surveyed 1,339 participants across all five boroughs of NYC, with findings that included 87-89% of undocumented immigrants would be hesitant to complete the Census.

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Focus Groups

Partnered with Global Strategy Group and 11 community-based organizations to conduct 12 focus groups to understand the opportunities and obstacles to conducting Census outreach in communities across NYC. Data obtained from these focus groups helped identify the most convincing rationales for participating in the Census and the trusted messengers who could be effective in reaching and persuading New Yorkers to complete the form.

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Message Testing – Phone and Text Polling

Surveyed 217 New Yorkers by text and by phone call in targeted zip codes across NYC with historically low Census response rates. Responses showed that New Yorkers responded better to positive messages than negative and highlighted several key messages and themes that resonated with specific communities. 

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Message Testing – Follow up Focus Groups

Worked with community-based organizations to conduct 5 focus groups across key demographic and geographic constituencies, including Muslim, at-risk youth, public housing, and Jewish populations to further flesh out key messages for each community. Data obtained during focus groups assisted in the development of a robust messaging guide for advocates. Key issue areas for New Yorkers included jobs, safety and security, healthcare, and more.


of adults responded that hearing about the Census from a local community-based organization would make a difference in whether or not they chose to participate in the Census.

-Quinnipiac poll, 2019

Public Awareness

Launched a mass media and micro-targeted media “Get Out The Count” campaign to communicate the most critical information about the Census across all NYC communities, and worked with the U.S. Census Bureau Director, NYC Census Director, NYC Council Task Force on Census 2020, and New York Counts 2020 to develop a public awareness campaign strategy that highlighted the importance of completing the Census.

Shaked it to Make it

Produced a Census Flash Mob in the center of Times Square encouraging New Yorkers to complete the Census and celebrating the vitality and creativity of the city with more than one hundred masked dancers from across the five boroughs of NYC.

Activated Sports Heroes

Partnered with the New York Mets and New York Islanders to produce public service announcements in English and Spanish and promoted on social media.

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Created a Pop-up Agency

Launched a Pop-Up Public Relations Agency that provided pro bono communications support including creative and messaging strategy, one-on-one counseling, and the development of creative collateral to more than 40 clients and the City’s Complete Count Fund awardees.


Created a network of community-based “Get Out the Count” hubs to assist New Yorkers in completing the 2020 Census forms including identifying trusted community spaces, providing technical and logistical assistance, and sharing best practices and training resources. In light of COVID-19 restrictions, ABNY pivoted efforts to equip partners and trusted community hubs with web-based trainings, online materials, and best practices to conduct outreach and get out the count safely.

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Neighborhood-based Census Resource Locations

Worked with more than a dozen NYC Census stakeholders to identify and support 30+ community-based facilities where New Yorkers could complete the Census form online including libraries, youth and senior service organizations, healthcare facilities, faith-based community partners, and privately-owned spaces.

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Culturally Competent Translation Services

Facilitated the translation of Census material developed by the U.S. Census Bureau, community-based organizations, and citywide Census partners into 15 languages as identified by research efforts and culturally based data.

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Acquired Technology

Partnered with Tech:NYC to solicit technology and technical support to assist neighborhood-based Census resource locations in areas of limited digital access.


Supported government, philanthropy, and community-based partners by advocating for essential resources for national and local Census outreach efforts.

“Community-based organizations must be funded to conduct Census outreach because they are the trusted messengers in historically undercounted communities and have the infrastructure for success. Their staff speak the right languages, know the stakeholders, and have already earned the confidence of many untrusting citizens and non-citizens. CBOs are the only organizations that are able to effectively communicate with individuals that government and businesses have historically struggled to reach.”
– Melva M. Miller testifying in front of the U.S. Congressional Oversight Committee

To all of our partners
and sponsors

Thank You!

Without you, none of the above could have been possible. And below, even more highlights from our work together!

How Will Coronavirus Affect the Census NY1 with Errol Louis

Maloney and Census Advocates Call for More Resources to Fight 2020 Census Sabotage

The Association for a Better New York Hosts In-Person Flash Mob and Census-Taking Event in Times Square

Find out what’s new with Association for a Better New York (ABNY)

With more than 300 member organizations, ABNY incorporates a comprehensive and diverse view of the issues and challenges facing New York City.