Users visualization

What is the 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.

Orgs visualization

Social Sector Organizations

Social sector organizations are incorporated entities—nonprofits, for-profits, or hybrids of the two—whose main purpose is to achieve a social mission.

Nonprofit examples include:

501(c)(3) charitable organizations
501(c)(4) social welfare organizations
Religious organizations

For-profit examples include:

Worker cooperatives
Social enterprises
Certified B corporations

Nonprofit/for-profit hybrid examples include:

Philanthropic limited liability companies
Groupos visualization

Social Sector Groups

Social sector groups are groups of individuals united around a common social purpose in the short or long terms that do not have nonprofit, for-profit, or hybrid business status.

Examples include:

Mutual aid societies
Neighborhood associations
Faith communities
Giving circles
Social movements
Individuals visualization

Social Sector Individuals

Social sector individuals are people acting in their own capacity to achieve a social mission.

Examples include:


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.