Commentary: The Winston-Salem Foundation: Our next century of service

Scott Wierman

Commentary: The Winston-Salem Foundation: Our next century of service
October 10
05:15 2019

By Scott Wierman

“A community where everyone thrives.” “Working together to fulfill our hopes and dreams.” and “It’s the best place in the country for all to work and live.” 

These are just a few of the hundreds of responses the Winston-Salem Foundation has received over the course of our centennial year when we asked the community to name their hopes and dreams for Winston-Salem. These aspirations, along with our strong commitment to racial equity, will help guide the Foundation’s work as we begin our second century of service to Forsyth County.  

The Winston-Salem Foundation was established with a gift of $1,000 in October 1919, making it the first foundation in North Carolina. The concept of a community foundation had been launched just five years earlier in Cleveland, Ohio, to create a way for individuals to donate permanent charitable capital to support local challenges and opportunities. The idea is that anyone can contribute, at any level, coinvesting to make their community a better place.  

Since 1919, more than 1,500 local individuals, families, and businesses have established charitable funds, and thousands of others have made gifts that support our community and beyond. Last year the Foundation was able to grant more than $55 million to charitable causes, and we rank among the highest in per capita assets among nearly 800 community foundations in America. We are blessed to live in a generous community with such tremendous resources. 

Unlike private foundations that are funded by one individual or family, community foundations are comprised of gifts from the broader community. Strategic initiatives, like our Black Philanthropy Initiative and The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem, engage thousands of donors to pool individual gifts to make a larger impact in our community. 

During the past 100 years, the Foundation has made investments to help improve our quality of life. A few examples include funding support for nonprofits that work with residents who are struggling, for arts and cultural opportunities, and for programs that are building neighborhood leadership. Broader scale initiatives to build social capital and invest in professional development for public school teachers also reflect our interest in building a stronger community.

Since our student aid program was established in 1923, more than 15,000 residents have received educational support, and thanks to the generosity of donors, this spring we awarded over $1 million in scholarships to more than 500 local students. We believe that education will continue to be a key driver in the future success of Forsyth County.

Last year the Foundation announced our commitment to addressing two critical issues that continue to limit our community’s success. Working with community partners and interested donors, we are investing in two key focus areas—Building an Inclusive Economy and Advancing Equity in Education. Data shows that race and zip code are unacceptably a strong predictor of life outcomes for our neighbors, and Forsyth County is among the worst of all U.S. counties for economic social mobility. Our community certainly has serious work to do if our dream of a community where everyone thrives is to become a reality.

We’ve also learned that transportation is an obstacle for many. Lack of reliable and affordable transportation limits access to healthcare, employment, healthy food, and education. In 2019, with the guidance of a community advisory committee including those with their own transportation challenges, we awarded $189,000 to local groups testing new ideas for solutions. We’ll continue to work with others on this issue that’s holding so many community members back. 

Over the years, the Foundation has been trusted to carry out the charitable legacies of individuals who wanted to make a difference in the place they called home. As we mark our 100th anniversary this month, we want you to know that we’re even more committed to remaining a flexible charitable resource for our current and future generations. 

Learn more about our work at and please join us as we invest our collective time, talent and treasure to ensure that Forsyth County is a place where everyone can thrive. 

Scott Wierman is the president of The Winston-Salem Foundation.

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