The primary aim of this publication is to describe promising asset-building practices for enhancing community wealth, increasing individual assets, and reducing poverty in rural communities. Asset-building programs were identified through a literature review and in consultation with over 120 policymakers, academics, practitioners, and foundation leaders across the country.  More than 300 asset-building programs were investigated through this “snow-balling” process.

Selection of programs to be included in the publication was made on the basis of criteria drafted in consultation with a board of advisors. The criteria used to rank asset-building programs included:

  • Is employed in a rural community or is applicable to rural communities
  • Addresses an asset or issue that is pertinent to North Carolina rural communities.
  • Demonstrates some measure of success, either by evidence obtained from a formal evaluation, if available, or by evidence that the program has attained a steady, positive state over a period of years.
  • Exhibits a noteworthy innovation or is not already widely employed throughout North Carolina.
  • Capable of being replicated under conditions present in many of North Carolina’s rural communities.
  • Resources for the program could be generated or obtained locally or through state programs without depending upon large federal grants or significant support from national foundations.       

[1] The board of advisors was constituted by expert practitioners in the field of community development who possess significant familiarity with North Carolina rural communities. A great debt of gratitude is owed to the board: Anita Brown-Graham, Deborah Markley, Mikki Sager, Karl Stauber, and Jesse White.

[2] Rigorous, peer-reviewed academic evaluations were not available for most of the programs examined for this publication. There are several explanations for the absence of such evaluations. First, the rigorous academic analysis that is required to determine whether a program’s intervention caused certain outcomes is typically not feasible for most organizations, government entities, and other groups implementing programs.  Second, the gold standard for such analysis—which may involve depriving one group of the benefits of a program in order to determine the success of that program—could jeopardize an organization’s existing relationships with residents and other organizations in the community. Third, many of these programs are still being developed, so in some cases there has not been sufficient time to evaluate them fully. Finally, as a general rule, programs which seek to create community change present predictable and significant barriers to evaluation. A good expression of this final difficulty is found in Thomas Kelly, Jr., Five Simple Rules for Evaluating Complex Community Initiatives, 22 Community Investments 19 (2010), available at

Topics - Local and State Government