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Beyond Bridging and Bonding: A Multilevel Approach to Describing Social Capital

Collaboration with faculty from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA


Theoretical narratives in the social capital literature describe it using the bonding and bridging typology. Though the literature indicates that there is a relationship between leveraging different types of social capital and improving economic outcomes, the mechanisms of how bonding and bridging social capital actions contribute to producing returns are ambiguous. This is troublesome because social capital is of particular importance to community development organizations (CDOs) and other nonprofits that are seeking to develop economies in distressed or under-served communities. The effectiveness of social capital on capacity has been considered by other scholarship. Yet, the extant literature has not considered how core differences between bonding and bridging capital, and the interaction of these types of capital with other facets of network theory, may shape capacity. To explore this question, we examine how social capital is used to promote local economic improvements by North Carolina’s community development practitioners. Our findings indicate clear patterns in the use of specific social capital pathways to maintain or build capacity.


Community development organizations are innovators in the use of social networks to increase programmatic effectiveness. However, existing theoretical narratives that seek to explain the use of social capital by these institutions is limited in its utility. Using a two-dimensional lens of analysis can help explain how community institutions use trust, norms, and reciprocity to increase capacity. Qualitative analysis of 24 semi-structured interviews with leading North Carolina community organizations helps illustrate the important role that social capital can have in local economic development and long-term organizational sustainability.


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Williams, Teshanee, McCall, Jamie, Berner, Maureen, and Anita Brown-Graham. 2019. “Beyond Bridging and Bonding: A Multilevel Approach to Describing Social Capital.” Presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, San Diego, California, 22 November 2019.

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