Marathon Strategies
July 10, 2020


By Anthony Hogrebe, Senior Vice President

After months of debate over how to manage the massive impact of COVID-19 on New York City’s finances, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council yesterday passed an FY2021 budget that brought predictably tough news across the board. 

While the most prominent media headlines will focus on approximately $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD, the $88.1 billion City budget included more than $7 billion in cuts to the Mayor’s preliminary budget proposal released in February. 

Simply put, the future has just become far more uncertain for non-profits, service providers, cultural organizations and thousands of other organizations that rely on City funding.

Of course, it’s not just non-profits and service providers that are feeling the crunch. The wide-ranging scope of the City’s overall budget cuts are unlike anything New Yorkers have seen since the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. And similar impacts can be seen on the capital budget, where a 40 percent reduction in funds for the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has put a massive dent in the Mayor’s signature affordable housing plan.

While organizations are busy dealing with the immediate aftermath of this year’s budget, it can be difficult to focus on long-term goals. But the adoption of the FY2021 budget does not mark the end of New York City’s fiscal challenges—it is likely just the beginning.

In such an uncertain environment, it is crucial for organizations that rely on City funding to advance strong, clear arguments about why they provide necessary services. In the coming months, it could mean the difference between weathering the storm or going under. Here are a few key principles that can help drive that conversation:

  • Develop a communications plan driven by the right messages. The weeks ahead will likely see elected officials and the public focus on a few high-profile issues such as potential layoffs of public employees and the future of the NYPD. Advancing a strategic communications plan that positions your organization as part of the City’s economic recovery from COVID-19 will help you cut through the media noise and generate visibility. 
  • Don’t stop advocating for your services – there may be a second round of cuts. Once the federal budget is set, the city will likely have to do a budget modification in the Fall, which means more cuts could be on the way sooner than next June. It’s also possible that Mayor de Blasio and lawmakers may restore funding to some social services or create new programs to address goals of police reform advocates. In either case, groups can’t afford to go quiet over the Summer.
  • Activate your members and those who benefit from your services. To make the best case for your services, it is imperative to leverage a chorus of supporters who can speak to the essential value you provide. Contacting their elected officials through social media, email petitions, or phone calls will help keep your priorities front of mind.   
  • Leverage digital tools to increase your online presence. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit public hearings and in-person meetings, making it more difficult for organizations to advocate for their priorities. Even smaller groups need to make greater use of digital tools to reach important stakeholders and communicate with their members. 
  • Reimagine the art of fundraising. Cuts to public budgets will only increase competition for private and foundation funding. Yet many traditional fundraising tactics, like cocktail receptions or awards dinners, won’t resume in person for some time. Organizations need to get up to speed on best practices for virtual galas and other digital alternatives.

The months ahead are expected to bring both fiscal challenges and some new opportunities. Organizations that start planning and making a case for their value now will be far more likely to continue serving New Yorkers in the future.

Anthony Hogrebe is a senior vice president at Marathon Strategies, a New York City-based public affairs firm that helps organizations impact public opinion and policymaking. Hogrebe formerly led public affairs at the New York City Economic Development Corporation and served as a senior advisor to the New York City Council Speaker.