2000 Social Capital Benchmark Study


The concept of social capital was introduced to Forsyth County by The Winston-Salem Foundation in 1999 when the Foundation announced the ECHO Fund to provide grants to increase social capital.  Subsequently in 2000, the National Social Capital Benchmark Study was conducted by Dr. Robert D. Putnam of Harvard.

Winston-Salem was one of 40 sites to participate in this national study on social capital, considered to be the largest scientific investigation of civic engagement ever conducted in America.  Social capital refers to connections among people, based on trust, which enhance cooperation for mutual benefit. Studies show that communities with high levels of social capital are likely to have higher educational achievement, better performing governmental institutions, faster economic growth, and less crime and violence. People living in these communities are likely to be happier, healthier, and have a longer life expectancy.

Based on surveys of 3,000 people nationally and another 26,200 in 40 selected communities throughout the U.S. (including Forsyth County, Greensboro and Charlotte), the National Social Capital Benchmark Study produced a scorecard showing how each community stacked up compared to expectations based on its demographics.


The survey showed that Forsyth County had high levels of involvement in faith-based activities and charitable giving.  On the other hand, there were a number of weaknesses with regard to social capital, including:

  • mistrust among residents, especially among residents who come from different social circles;
  • an over-concentration of leadership among traditional leaders; 
  • a lack of public gathering spaces that encourage informal socializing among all segments of the community; and
  • relatively low levels of volunteerism, especially volunteering that involves doing things with people (rather than for people).


These themes were reinforced during a series of ECHO Listening Sessions conducted during the summer of 2003.  Participants painted the following picture of how the community should change with regard to social capital:

  • Decision making becomes more inclusive.
  • Leadership is intentionally developed throughout the entire community.
  • Volunteerism is broadened in terms of opportunities, training and who is involved.
  • Community development and economic development go hand in hand.
  • More public gathering places are created, especially spaces that encourage dialogue and interactions among diverse segments of the community.

Changes of this magnitude can be achieved only through strategies that are systemic and comprehensive in scope, which in turn, require an organization that is focused specifically on the issue of social capital, has influence and credibility throughout the community, and is capable of developing innovative and creative solutions to entrenched community problems.  Because no existing organization in Forsyth County met those conditions, The Winston-Salem Foundation assembled the ECHO Council as a means of building social capital on a community-wide basis. 

A follow-up study was conducted in 2006 to evaluate what had changed with social capital in the community in light of the intensive work guided by The Winston-Salem Foundation.  See 2006 Social Capital Benchmark Study results.


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