Exploring the Social Sector Infrastructure

The social sector infrastructure is the support system that helps the social sector thrive. It is an ecosystem of providers that offer services focused on sustainability, learning, relationships, and influence to social sector organizations, groups, and individuals.

What is the social sector?

Social Sector

The US social sector consists of private organizations (nonprofit, for-profit, and hybrids of the two), groups, and individuals acting to advance social missions as their primary purpose. This definition includes incorporated organizations as well as unincorporated groups and movements, and institutions as well as individuals.


What does the social sector need to thrive?

Supports and Services

To thrive, the social sector needs: (1) support for its sustainability, (2) opportunities for learning, (3) strong relationships, and (4) influence. Sustainability requires financial resources, along with services that support mission, talent, and operations. Learning opportunities come from education, training, and knowledge development and dissemination. Strong relationships grow through convenings, networks, and leadership development. And influence increases through communications, civic engagement, and advocacy.


Where does the social sector get this help?

Infrastructure Providers

The social sector gets this help from social sector infrastructure providers, which serve and support the sustainability, learning, relationships, and influence of at least one of the sector’s core constituencies. These infrastructure providers can be part of the social sector or work at for-profit businesses or public sector agencies.

The Social SectorFor-Profit BusinessesPublic Sector Agencies

Project Credits

This interactive graphic of the constantly evolving social sector infrastructure was produced by the Urban Institute and George Mason University in 2021 and 2022.

  • Research Laura Tomasko, Faith Mitchell, Alan Abramson, Benjamin Soskis, Hannah Martin, and Kristen Kinneberg
  • Design and Development Mobility Labs
  • Editing Zach VeShancey

We would also like to thank Elizabeth Boris and Jesse Lecy for serving as senior advisors to this project, and Ren MacLean, Tanvi Punja, and Adam Goudjil for initial research assistance.

About This Project

This project is funded by New Venture Fund. We are grateful to them and to all our funders.

We appreciate the guidance we received from members of the Urban/GMU Social Sector Infrastructure Advisory Committee and the New Venture Fund–hosted Infrastructure Research Collaborative, a coordinated effort of funders and practitioners that supports our efforts to better understand the country’s social sector infrastructure.

To see a list of advisors, learn more about this project, and read publications associated with this study, see our project page.