Where does the social sector get the services and supports it needs to thrive?

The social sector gets services and supports 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.

As their primary purpose, infrastructure providers must serve members of at least one of the social sector’s core constituencies, which we define as categories or subcategories of types of social sector organizations, groups, and individuals acting to advance social missions. These types of social sector entities may or may not focus on specific issue areas.

  • Social sector organization constituencies include types of nonprofits as defined by the Internal Revenue Service, for-profits with a social mission, or hybrids of the two. Examples of organization subcategories include all social enterprises or private foundations focused on health.
  • Social sector group constituencies can include types of mutual aid societies, neighborhood associations, giving circles, social movements, and faith communities. Examples of group subcategories include all faith communities or groups counteracting anti-Asian violence.
  • Social sector individual constituencies can include types of individual donors, volunteers, voters, and organizers. Examples of individual subcategories include all volunteers or Generation Z high-net-worth donors.

Infrastructure providers can direct their services and supports to one or multiple social sector organizations, groups, or individuals, or they can serve an entire field. They can come from the social sector, work at for-profit businesses, or be public sector agencies.

The Social Sector

Infrastructure providers can come from social sector organizations or groups or be individuals acting to advance social missions as their primary purpose. Examples include membership associations, mutual aid societies, and organizers.

For-Profit Businesses

Infrastructure providers can work at for-profit businesses that do not have a primary social mission but intentionally serve social sector entities. Examples include consultants and law firms with social sector practice areas.

Public Sector Agencies

Infrastructure providers can be public sector agencies that provide critical data about and investments in social sector entities. Examples include the Internal Revenue Service and AmeriCorps.

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.