ECHO Network

ECHO Network

Everyone Can Help Out

The ECHO Network began in 2003 as an initiative of the Winston-Salem Foundation to further the Foundation’s work to build social capital. The mission of the ECHO Network is to build a better community by providing opportunities to foster enriching, trusting, and long-lasting relationships among diverse people.


History of ECHO Network
In 1999, the Winston-Salem Foundation created the Everyone Can Help Out (ECHO) Fund.The Foundation committed a minimum of $2.5 million over 5 years to be used for grants to organizations that increase our community’s stock of 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.

The survey showed that we were strong in a few aspects of social capital, average in some, and low in others. The Foundation concluded that it would need to enlist significant community support to shore up the areas in which we were low. Because no existing organization in Forsyth County was specifically working on increasing social capital, The Winston-Salem Foundation assembled the ECHO Council in 2003 as a means of building social capital on a community-wide basis. The Council officially launched in November 2005.

The final ECHO grant was awarded in June 2005, but the Foundation’s commitment to building social capital remains strong. The ECHO Council was charged by the Foundation to work as a promoter, incubator, facilitator, and advocate for social capital. The Council’s work was focused on creating a culture of the common good where decisions are made to benefit the many rather than the few.

In 2009 the ECHO Network became the formal entity that housed the ECHO Council and other programs. The ECHO Network mission: To build a better community by providing opportunities to foster enriching, trusting, and long-lasting relationships among diverse people. The Network is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

In 2012 the ECHO Council evolved into multiple ECHO Teams in order to have a greater community impact.

What is Social Capital?
Social capital refers to the 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.

In 2000, a 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. Based on surveys of 3,000 people nationally and another 26,200 in 40 selected communities throughout the U.S. (including Winston-Salem, 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 Winston-Salem 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.

The ECHO Council was created to impact these specific areas and create avenues for broad community participation in increasing social capital. The Council evolved into ECHO Teams in 2012 to have a greater impact in the community.

The ECHO Award
The Winston-Salem Foundation and the ECHO Network wish to honor people and organizations that are building social capital. With the presentation of ECHO Awards, we hope to recognize those who personify the ECHO logo—building a stronger community by building connections among people.

Nominees for an ECHO Award can be:

  • Individuals, informal groups, or organizations
  • Unsung heroes and heroines from our community
  • Community members with an innovative way to build connections among residents

Award winners will receive a $1,000 grant to donate to a charitable organization of their choice, hopefully one that is building social capital. Winners are announced at the Foundation’s community meeting each spring.

Ways to get involved
ECHO is always in need of volunteers who are willing to commit to short- and long-term projects and activities. A short-term commitment may include planning an ECHO event, greeting the public at gatherings, compiling a database, facilitating a discussion, or organizing an ECHO activity. To fulfill our long-term objectives, we seek volunteers willing to participate on an ECHO Team or serve on any of the ECHO committees.

ECHO Team membership is open to the community; recruitment is conducted twice per year. Teams typically meet every month. ECHO committees generally meet monthly and involvement is open to the community at-large. Volunteers can sign up for short-term activities at any time during the year.

Want us to determine your best fit as a volunteer for ECHO? Submit a general volunteer profile.

Have an idea that will help the ECHO Network build social capital? Email to share your idea.

ECHO Conversation Groups
Conversation groups were one of the first ECHO efforts. Initiated in 2004, conversation groups are informal socialization groups that turn strangers into friends. Each group is usually small—about 5-7 people—with the capacity to grow. Conversation groups are not about networking and making business connections; conversation groups are about connecting with people across our lines of difference.

How do conversation groups work?

Interested individuals sign up to participate at any time by providing some basic demographic information and information about interests and/or community service. Those individuals are then matched into a group with others who, at least on paper, are different from themselves, thereby creating social groups of diverse people who are all interested in connecting with others in the community.

What do conversation groups do?

Many conversation groups simply meet over dinner once a month to catch up and chat like any other friend group. Others may meet at community events or gatherings like Gallery Hop or an exhibit opening. Each group is free to determine what level of interaction will work best for their group, including meeting time and days. A few of the original conversation groups convened by ECHO have been meeting for over six years!

ECHO Teams
ECHO Teams are community-based groups that engage in learning and creating initiatives related to social capital. Team activities are based on promoting a vision of the common good, facilitating inclusive, community-wide conversations that openly and honestly address issues that are critical to the well-being of the community, incubating innovative strategies to address critical local issues, and encouraging individuals, organizations and institutions to adopt strategies, practices and policies that build social capital.

ECHO Teams are groups who come together to:

·         Build relationships with other team members
·         Participate in practical learning about social capital
·         Develop and execute a team project to build social capital in Forsyth County

In addition:

·         Teams are intentionally diverse
·         Teams require a 12-month commitment
·         Teams meet for monthly sessions, including a one-day retreat

Learning Topics include:

·         History of Winston-Salem
·         Dimensions of social capital
·         Building relationships
·         Group/team dynamics
·         Privilege and racial disparities
·         Engaging in and facilitating difficult conversations
·         Project management tools
·         Community resources
·         Project delivery
·         Evaluation tools


1.  Attend an opening retreat
2.  Attend at least 9 of the 11 learning sessions
3.  Participate in off-site gatherings with other team members
4.  Actively contribute to a team project
5.  Follow meeting guidelines developed by the team
6.  Complete evaluations

Would you like to meet new people?

Do you want to affect change in a different way?

Can you help to make Winston-Salem the BEST community ever?

Join an ECHO Team!

ECHO Conversation Groups
Conversation groups are informal social groups that meet on a regular basis. Individuals in these groups are matched together by ECHO, though others join as time passes. These groups are intended to help people form relationships with those they may not have come in contact with in any other setting. ECHO is always in search of individuals to convene a conversation group. Those conveners are members of the group and usually pass their role to another member once the group is established.
ECHO Reads!
ECHO Reads! is a book club open to all members of the community.  Selected books explore topics relating to understanding others’ backgrounds and life experiences.  Participants will meet new people, engage in active discussion, and explore some thoughtful books in a casual, relaxed atmosphere.
The ECHO Bus travels throughout the community attending a variety of events.  Volunteer greeters and drivers are needed on an occasional basis.  The ECHO bus is available to assist the community with small, short-term projects.  Contact us for more information!
ECHO Operations Committees
Recruitment Committee

The ECHO Network is intentionally inclusive of all perspectives in the community (defined by sector, race/ethnicity, age, etc.). The Membership Committee is responsible for recruiting potential members and making nominations to ECHO Teams. The Teams need individuals who understand the importance of building strong relationships as a part of the process to get to the more action-oriented accomplishments.

Anti-Racism Committee

The Network recognizes that social capital cannot be built without talking about racism, particularly the kind that subtly permeates our institutions. The Anti-Racism Team, guided by Crossroads Ministry and the Winston-Salem Institute for Dismantling Racism, offers ongoing assistance to the Network to develop our structure in a way that does not perpetuate structural racism. This work includes helping build awareness of issues of racism, educating and fostering community dialogue about racism, and partnering with other entities working to dismantle racism.

Marketing Committee

This committee focuses on educating the community about social capital as well as the efforts of the ECHO Network. The goal is to develop messages, images, stories, and activities that encourage participation in social capital building.

In addition, this committee develops and implements approaches that engage the larger community in the work of building social capital. Its first efforts were to organize the conversation groups as a way to bring diverse people together to discuss issues and get to know each other.

Program Committee

It is important to monitor and evaluate how our programs help us fulfill our mission within the community.  The program committee was convened to look at our current efforts and assess our capacity to develop new efforts.  This committee is also charged with vetting ideas for new programs, an important role within the Network.

Fundraising Committee

This committee develops and implements fundraising strategies for programs and operations of the ECHO Network.

Publications and Resources
Access these publications and other resources to learn more about social capital and other efforts that complement the work of the ECHO Network.

Publications and Books

Strategies for Building Social Capital: Lessons from The Winston-Salem Foundation’s ECHO Fund
Current ECHO Newsletter
Robert Putnam – Better Together
Edgar Cahn – No More Throw Away People


The Winston-Salem Foundation
Social Capital Benchmark Survey
Bowling Alone
HandsOn NWNC

Other Resources

Social Capital Blog 
Dimensions of Social Capital