Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

They Just Don't Understand!

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

They Just Don't Understand!

Article excerpt

Americans in the dark about nonprofits

When David Lawrence was the CEO and board chair of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, his organization investigated whether consumers cared that Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit. Its finding? "It didn't make a bit of difference in [their] healthcare decisions," says Lawrence.

A possible explanation for consumers' apathy is given in an article published in the December 2004 issue of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly: One-third of Americans don't know what a nonprofit is. The study also showed that Americans who don't know have less favorable attitudes toward nonprofit hospitals and health insurance plans than those who do. Perhaps most dismaying for nonprofits, explaining nonprofit ownership to those who did not previously understand it makes them even kss favorable toward nonprofit healthcare. Those with some prior knowledge of nonprofits, in contrast, like them more when given the additional information.

"My speculation about this result would be that when you take someone's area of ignorance and try to explain things to them, you might just antagonize them," said the study's lead author, Mark Schlesinger of Yale and Rutgers universities.

Lawrence's experiences at Kaiser led him to a similar explanation: 'Americans are socialized to believe in the benefits of a for-profit, capitalist approach, and are therefore suspicious of nonprofits. Many just don't want to hear the facts."

The facts, said Schlesinger, are that "there is no evidence that for-profit institutions, on average, provide better care than nonprofits for any medical service. …

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