What Does It Even Mean Be a “Nonprofit” Hospital Anymore?

June 26, 2023

While traditional wisdom once held that nonprofit hospitals maintain a firm advantage over for-profit hospitals, the tides seem to be turning.

// By Ross K. Goldberg //

Ross K. Goldberg is president of Kevin/Ross Public RelationsOne of the oldest and truest axioms in consumer advertising is that the most successful and persuasive messaging finds a way to turn a feature into a benefit. Nowhere is this on greater display than in health care, and smart public relations professionals have known this for years. The fact that your hospital operates a 24-hour emergency department is a feature. The fact that “we’re here to take care of your child at 3 a.m. when you don’t know where to turn” is a benefit.

It is peculiar, then, that these same smart communicators who follow this strategy in so much of their daily messaging often find it challenging to apply an equivalent approach when talking about their not-for-profit status. While most nonprofits are very conscious to always include the words “nonprofit” or “not-for-profit” in their boilerplate description, many do a poor job of explaining precisely what that means in a way that is meaningful and compelling to their audience.

Are they missing a chance for differentiation and, if so, how can not-for-profit institutions turn their legal status into a competitive advantage as it relates to attracting patients, medical staff, and employees?

Given the reality that most health care is covered by a third-party payer, do consumers even factor the hospital’s status into their equation when choosing a provider? And given our age of cynicism and diminished trust in the health care system, will people take the time to listen and ultimately believe what the hospital has to say on this topic?

Here, we’ll share perspectives from three veteran strategic communications and business development professionals with widely differing views on the subject.

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