Abstract

The function, indeed the very existence, of nonprofit corporations is undertheorized. Recent literature suggests that only preferential tax treatment adequately accounts for the persistence of the nonprofit form. This explanation is incomplete. Drawing on psychology’s social identity theory, this Article posits that the nonprofit form can create a special “warm-glow” identity that cannot be replicated by the for-profit form. For example, a local nonprofit food cooperative sells more than the free-range eggs or organic strawberries that Whole Foods and other for-profits market so effectively. The co-op offers community participation and an investment in local farms, a distinctive ethos that is incompatible with the profit motive. Ascribing a special meaning to the nonprofit form allows us to view afresh a variety of issues regarding the appropriate legal treatment of nonprofits.