2001 Social Capital Benchmark Survey Press Release


Press Release
Thursday, March 1, 2001

Winston-Salem, NC – A national social capital survey of more than 29,000 households in 40 communities, including 750 in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, shows that people here are great at doing things for people but not so great at doing things with people. The survey was conducted by Harvard University and sponsored locally by The Winston-Salem Foundation.

Social capital, sometimes called "community connectedness," refers to social networks and the trust and reciprocity that arise from them. 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. And people living in these communities are likely to be happier, healthier, and to have a longer life expectancy.

Directed by Dr. Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard University and national expert on social capital, the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey sought to measure the degree of connectedness, interaction, and trust among people in Winston-Salem and 39 other communities. It was developed by the Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in partnership with a consortium of 29 other community foundations and several private foundations around the country.

Putnam has described the survey as "the largest scientific investigation of civic engagement ever conducted in America." The survey reveals that social capital has multiple dimensions. A community may rank high in some dimensions and low in others.

"These community foundations and other community builders conducting 'community physicals' are engaged in one of the most important efforts ever to strengthen our communities," said Putnam. "America needs nothing less than a sustained, broad-based social movement to restore civil society and civic participation."

Scott F. Wierman, President of The Winston-Salem Foundation, said the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (2000) showed strengths on which Winston-Salem can build. "For example," Wierman said, "people in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are strong in church attendance, and rank high in giving to their churches and other charities, and in some areas of volunteerism."

In Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, 71 percent of the people said they are members of a church, synagogue, or mosque, compared to 65 percent nationally. Seventy-five percent attend services at least once a month, compared to 70 percent nationally, and 54 percent take part in additional activities at their house of worship, compared to 45 percent nationally. Forsyth County is tied for 6th place among the 40 communities surveyed in faith-based social capital.

Nationally and locally, high levels of involvement with religious institutions are correlated with low generalized trust in others. To build social capital, we must get to know those who are outside our usual circles.

Dr. Doug Easterling, the Director of the Division for Community-Based Evaluation at the Center for the Study of Social Issues at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who analyzed survey findings locally, said, "Although there is a strong ethic toward charitable giving through the churches, not all church-related or church-sponsored activities stretch across lines of class, race, and geography. There is a danger of staying within the walls and connecting only with like-minded individuals. The degree to which this actually happens in any particular church obviously depends on the type of ministry and the degree to which the church is outward, versus inward, looking."

"However, our weakest area seems to be 'informal socializing,' doing things with people outside structured environments like church," said Wierman. That means that people here are less likely to have friends over to visit or for backyard barbecues, to visit with relatives, to socialize with co-workers outside the workplace, or just hang out with friends in parks and other places. Forsyth County tied for last with two other communities in informal socializing.

"This informal socializing is extremely important," said Wierman, "because it is through these activities that we build the kind of social trust that allows people in a community to tackle problems and challenges and work through them successfully.

"We in Winston-Salem have to do more about getting out of our houses," said Wierman. "We need to make a concerted effort to get to know each other, because there are strong studies that show that when people in a community know and trust each other, the quality of life for everyone is much better."

As for general interpersonal trust, 41 percent of the local respondents agreed that "people can be trusted," compared to 47 percent nationally. More than half, 53 percent, of the people here also agreed with the statement that "you can't be too careful," compared to only 46 percent nationally. The relatively low level of generalized trust among people, both within and across ethnic groups, caused Forsyth County's overall inter-racial trust score to be low – 32nd out of 40.

"Although Winston-Salem scored about where a community with our demographics was predicted to score (called a 'community quotient') in the 'social trust' category, one thing stood out," according to Wierman. "We tend to trust the people we go to church with or are involved with in a structured organization, but we have lower trust of co-workers, store-workers, and others in the community," Wierman said.

"This is an area we really need to work on," said Richard Budd, Chair of The Winston-Salem Foundation Committee, "because it makes it extremely difficult for any community to move forward together without a high level of social trust. This is why doing things with people as well as for people is so important," he added. "Diverse people having frequent, informal interactions build the kind of trust between individuals of all races and economic levels that you need for a vital, healthy community."

Concern about building social capital prompted The Winston-Salem Foundation last year to establish the ECHO Fund – Everyone Can Help Out. Designed to increase social capital through having Winston-Salem people do things with each other, The Foundation designated a minimum of $2.5 million for grants to organizations over a five-year period. Thus far it has made 20 grants totaling almost $550,000 for a variety of projects. The largest, approved last December, was $100,000 to Habitat for Humanity to build social capital by forming racially diverse partnerships to build houses.

The Winston-Salem Foundation learned of the social capital survey two years ago, asked to be included, and made funds available to finance the local portion. The 750 residents here were surveyed last summer. Greensboro and a multi-county area including Charlotte were two of the other 39 areas surveyed. Wierman said The Foundation does consider the survey a "benchmark" and is committed to another survey within three to five years to measure progress.

Police in Winston-Salem received a major vote of confidence with 86 percent of respondents here saying they trusted police either "a lot" or "some." This figure contrasts to 80 percent nationally and 79 percent in other communities in the South. There were significant differences in trust levels between white and African American respondents, however, with African Americans indicating a lower trust level. This was true nationwide.

On the issue of race relations, Winston-Salem had mixed survey results. On the positive side, 72 percent of the white respondents said they had at least one friend who is African American, compared to only 56 percent nationally. Among African Americans surveyed, 81 percent said they had at least one white friend, compared to 71 percent nationally. Levels of trust generally are lower among African Americans than among whites.

In The Saguaro Seminar's executive summary of the survey, Putnam noted, "The more racially diverse a community is, the less likely its residents are to trust other people, connect with other people, participate in politics, and connect across class lines."

As in most communities included in the survey, people surveyed here reported lower levels of social trust in Latinos. "This could reflect the lack of connectedness between the emerging Latino population and other residents of the community," Wierman said. "Again, we are back to the point that informal contacts help build social trust, and Latino participation and interaction in the broader community is still very low, so others have not gotten to know them well yet.

"The Winston-Salem Foundation sees this as a challenge for our community, and we have conducted an independent survey of the growing Latino community here and will report those findings this spring," Wierman added.

People in Forsyth County, according to the survey, have a fairly passive attitude toward structured activities. Activism is very low here, with Forsyth County ranking near the bottom in "protest politics" among sites studied.

The level of general community activism also shows up vividly in terms of attending meetings, other than at a place of worship. Sixty-two percent of local respondents said they did not attend a public meeting during the previous 12 months, compared to 56 percent nationally.

In its study, Harvard created a scale of "civic leadership," which combined the level of involvement in groups, attending group meetings, and assuming a leadership role in those groups. Forsyth County scored fairly low on this scale, ranking 31st among the 40 communities.

"Our community seems to look to the same people as leaders time after time," said Budd. "There is ample opportunity for leadership positions in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. And leadership doesn't always have to be on a large, grand scale – there are plenty of leadership positions within youth and school-based organizations, neighborhood associations, political groups, and at community special events."

Although they often do not take on leadership positions, local residents were quite active at other levels within charity organizations, neighborhood associations, and parent-teacher groups.

The survey also shows that, while Winston-Salem has been called "City of the Arts," participation in literary, arts, and music groups here is about average.

Forsyth County residents tend to express their charity primarily by giving to their religious organizations. In terms of contributions to religious charities, 80 percent of the Forsyth sample gave at least something in the prior year, compared to 70 percent for the national sample. The level of those contributions was also considerably greater in Forsyth County – an average of $1,283, compared to $1,035 for the national sample. Forty-six percent of the people surveyed here said they gave more than $500 to their church or other religious body, compared to 34 percent nationally.

Giving to non-religious charities, including the United Way, Arts Council, and other groups, was less than half of what went to religious groups ($471), and it was less than the national average ($481).

The Harvard study created a composite "charity" scale, which combined monetary giving and volunteering of time. On this scale, Forsyth County ranked very high – 4th of 40 communities, mainly because of the emphasis people here place on volunteering at and contributing to their religious institutions.

"When all is said and done, we have just begun to scratch the surface. I know my imagination already has been stimulated by the results from this survey, and I intend to go back over it time and time again to find additional insights into how we can make vital connections across economic lines, across racial lines, across neighborhood lines, across religious lines, across political lines," said Ann Ring, Vice Chair of The Winston-Salem Foundation Committee.

"We simply have to if we are going to build the kind of social capital and social trust necessary to allow us to work toward and achieve better schools, safer streets, healthier citizens, more effective government, and shared economic prosperity," Ring said.

"Make no mistake about it. It will not be easy," added Ring. "But it will be worthwhile, in both the short term and, certainly, the long term."


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