Giving Compass' Take: 

• Helmsley Charitable Trust and the New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy convened stakeholders in order to address challenges with food pantry coordination in New York City. They shared their insights during the strategic planning process. 

• Tackling an issue like food assistance requires a plan. How can philanthropists help ensure success? 

• Collaborative funding practices can be helpful towards achieving social goals and increasing impact philanthropy. 

Each year, nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food assistance. The delivery of that assistance requires a complex network of food suppliers who distribute food to a thousand neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens.

Until recently, however, there was little coordination between those suppliers. Over the years, the key players involved in emergency food assistance in New York would gather to discuss potential projects and information they wished they could share more easily. Good intentions notwithstanding, they simply did not have the resources or incentive to follow through on this work.

In January 2015, Helmsley Charitable Trust , working with the New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy, convened the key players in emergency food assistance in the city and invited them to create a unified strategic plan that didn't just fund their work but also aligned everyone's incentives to change and improve the system.

Of course, success wasn't guaranteed, and we learned some valuable lessons along the way. It wasn't enough to simply gather everyone in the same room and offer to provide the funds needed to get the process started. Instead, the following elements were critical:

  • Conditional payments. Helmsley offered the funds to get started. The of subsequent funding was conditioned on achieving future goals and milestones agreed on at the outset by members of the group.
  • An honest broker at the head of the table. In this case, the honest broker was Mayor Bill de Blasio's director of food policy, Barbara Turk.
  • Consensus on a set of measurable goals. 
  • Resources to carry out plans.
  • Reliable structure to support implementation decisions. The collaborative set up working groups on different topics staffed with relevant experts from each organization and assembled CEO-level representatives and private funders to oversee the work.

Read the full article about the food collaborative at PhilanTopic.