Research Report The Social Sector Infrastructure
Defining and Understanding the Concept
Laura Tomasko, Alan J. Abramson, Faith Mitchell, Kristen Kinneberg, Benjamin Soskis, Hannah Martin
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This report seeks to deepen understanding of the social sector infrastructure, which we define as the support system that helps the social sector thrive. In this report, we detail how we developed broad definitions that capture the full breadth of both the social sector and its infrastructure to reflect their diversity, scope, and impact. We hope our definition and framework will inspire future research, as well as inform the way we think about, talk about, and support the social sector and its infrastructure. This publication is part of a larger project on the social sector infrastructure.

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

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.

To thrive, the social sector needs: (1) support for its sustainability, (2) opportunities for learning, (3) strong relationships, and (4) influence


Social Sector Infrastructure figure
Source: Mobility Labs, for the Urban Institute.


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. They can direct their services and supports to one or multiple social sector organizations, groups, or individuals, or they can serve an entire field.

Research Areas Nonprofits and philanthropy
Tags Charitable giving Data and technology capacity of nonprofits Foundations and philanthropy Impact investing Nonprofit data and statistics Nonprofit sector trends Social sector infrastructure Volunteering
Policy Centers Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Research Methods Data analysis Data collection Qualitative data analysis
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