Today we’re going to take a deep dive into one of the key findings of our recent Social Good Report, specifically the chapter on Social Mobility:

“Companies involved in social impact strategies are recognizing the important role community-based organizations play in leveraging trust. This requires businesses to build new relationships to advance their social impact efforts.”

A Matter of Trust

A central challenge for achieving positive gains in health and human services is trust – it has been the key finding of every major study conducted in Charlotte for decades.

I moved to the Charlotte area during the final days of Crossroads Charlotte, a project that began in 2001 following participation in a national survey on the topic of “social capital.” The survey found that the community had high levels of faith-based involvement and philanthropy, but ranked last on social and interracial trust.

If that sounds familiar, it is because those were also the findings of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, a group of 20 diverse and dedicated community volunteers who created a blueprint for action in 2017 (Leading on Opportunity) to address the city’s poor performance in another national study. Professors from Harvard and University of California Berkeley had published a report that ranked Charlotte 50th out of 50 major U.S. cities in terms of upward mobility.

Both Crossroads Charlotte and Leading on Opportunity found that trust was a key ingredient to addressing the challenges experience by disinvested people in Charlotte. So why is trust-building still so confusing for so many philanthropists in our region?

Social Capital Revisited

One of the ‘cross-cutting factors’ highlighted by Leading on Opportunity was social capital, defined as “ensuring all children, youth, and families have relationships in the community to connect them to information, ideas, resources, support and opportunities.”

We at Next Stage find this to be a challenging definition of a term that literally exploded on the Charlotte nonprofit scene when the report was published in 2017. Every organization in town was trying to make the argument that their programs fostered relationships in community, which was too often perceived as a one-way street. What “poor people” needed, many interpreted, were simply stronger relationships with well-to-do middle-class people who can offer their networks and mentorship.

That simply isn’t how social capital works, especially across racial boundaries. Instead, we ascribe to the Bonding, Bridging & Linking definition of social capital that informs our value of equity:

Our biggest challenges require bridging to understand, bonding to galvanize will and resource linking that is done with deep appreciation for what everyone brings to the table. We believe ‘outside-in’ solutions are unlikely to yield success because everyone must have an ownership stake for the nonprofit model to be successful.

Trust-building is a two-way street and requires everyone to be an active participant for it to work. That means appreciating that someone in need is even willing to be at the table in the first place. We call this trust capital and we believe it remains a key (missing) ingredient in Charlotte’s efforts to address poor outcomes in social and economic mobility.

Trust as Programming – The Rise of the CBO

In a city that has found trust to be its signature challenge through two major studies across 20+ years, why do we make the forming of trust across difference so difficult?

Next Stage recently completed a yearlong study in partnership with Charlotte-based community health organization Care Ring, with funding from the Kate B. Reynold’s Charitable Trust, to examine how community-based organizations (CBOs) can play a role following healthcare policy change. On July 1 of this year, North Carolina flipped the switch on Medicaid Transformation, and state health leaders believe grassroots organizations may hold the key to better health outcomes.

The project had Next Stage study CBOs in the Grier Heights neighborhood (CrossRoads Corporation) and the University area (via UCITY Family Zone). We launched the effort during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, and it provided rare insight into how trust factored in to pandemic response.

One of our key findings? CBOs are too often under-funded for their most important asset. Neighborhood-based organizations have the unique ability to form trusted relationships with residents due to their proximity and cultural competency – they are literally of their communities. But resources are typically sourced from institutional funders for direct programming. It isn’t enough to generate trust in and of itself – funding only comes when that trust is activated into health and human services outcomes.

During the pandemic, CBOs were as disrupted as everyone else to get their direct services programs implemented. Their staff members were reeling from the same work-life challenges we all were experiencing. The burden of direct service programs kept CBOs from playing the role only they could play – serving as a bridge of trust and relationship to people in their communities. People stayed away and doors stayed shut.

At a time when we needed CBOs the most, the infrastructure came crashing down.

A New Way Forward

Next Stage believes there is another way – a new supply chain for social good that positions CBOs as trust brokers in their communities, partnering with scaled-up agency nonprofits that have the resources and programming but too little of a neighborhood’s buy-in. Grassroots organizations must be factored in to any efforts to drive resources at these populations. We believe it is an imperative.

Should we really be ‘paying for trust-building?’ It may not be as strange as it sounds at first blush. In the effort to get America vaccinated against the COVID virus, the U.S. government is doing exactly that, working with community-based organizations (read: paying them) to assist with the vaccine roll-out. These ‘trust-built sites’ are critical to solving a community health crisis. Why should solving any other social issues in Charlotte be any different?

To put it another way, what better way to build trust than to acknowledge it is missing and set about funding the creation of more of it?

It is a finding that belongs in the Social Good Report 2021: Profit & Purpose because it takes bold, disruptive institutional philanthropy to make it happen. It is the kind of spirit of entrepreneurship that defines the launch of the LendingTree Foundation’s LendaHand Alliance Cohort this week. It can be found in the Reemprise Fund’s recent investments toward examining the importance of kinship. It was an underpinning of a new strategic plan for the African American Community Foundation at Foundation For The Carolinas focused on Black-led philanthropy. It is also why so many participants in CULTIVATE, Next Stage’s incubator for the leaders of emerging nonprofit organizations, are receiving more outreach and resources than ever before.

Finally, institutional philanthropy in Charlotte appears to be coming to the realization that two-way directional trust won’t just happen on its own. It takes investment and prioritization.

We look forward to examining this new supply chain for social good in our 2022 edition of the Social Good Report. We’ve already begun the research!

About The Social Good Report 2021: Profit & Purpose

Next Stage knows you have questions and we’re here to help. Through our Social Impact for Business service line, we are working with companies to design compelling social good strategies that lead to measurable Community impact. Got a specific challenge you’re wrestling with? Or a compelling workplace asset you want more people to know about? “Yes, we have a nonprofit for that.”

Reach out to us to learn more:


Written by: Josh Jacobson