Editor’s Note: In the following section, Scott Schnapp, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, and Greg Ouellette, executive director of the Pinetree Society, talk about the connection between local, regional, and national infrastructure organizations.

The Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) is the ersatz town center of the nonprofit community in the area. With over 500 members, ranging from the tiniest, volunteer-run groups to multimillion-dollar organizations, MANP supports a vastly diverse group of organizations that work in every field of endeavor. Scott Schnapp discusses how the information and support he receives from national infrastructure groups help his organization better serve its members.

One of our major initiatives right now is a training program, which we call SkillBuilders. We conduct seminars around the state in ten different locations on various topics within nonprofit management: Staff and Board Leadership, Fundraising and Development, Marketing and Public Relations, Human Resources, Financial Management, and Technology and Innovation. These seminars are becoming very popular places to learn skills, not only for people already in leadership, but also for younger leaders coming up. They are also a great place for people in the sector to develop relationships and create networks.

On the most practical level, we have attracted a lot of members by building a fairly significant health insurance program for nonprofits, which currently serves more than 200 organizations. We basically aggregate everyone working in the sector and are then able to negotiate a discount program for the nonprofit community. Through our program nonprofits are able to pay less for healthcare and other benefits. To do this, we work in a dedicated broker relationship with a state-wide broker who then services the clients. In turn, this creates a revenue stream for us, which we use to subsidize our educational mission.

We also do a good bit of research. Our economic impact reports (see box on page 48) have helped state legislators recognize how nonprofits contribute to Maine’s larger jobs picture. As you well know, nonprofits have been under fire for tax exemptions. We were able to show that in Maine, we have one of the highest percentages of nonprofit economic impact in the country. It has really helped us, from a visibility and advocacy standpoint, to have people realize what an important player the nonprofit community is in the state economy.

As advocates for the nonprofit sector, we track bills that impact nonprofits, sending out legislative alerts and organizing advocacy efforts among our members.

Conversely, we receive support and information, mostly through our parent association, the National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA), and the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. NCNA provides a network of associations through which we’re able to garner ideas. Each state association has a slightly different focus, built around its own members. Some are strong in training, some are strong in advocacy, and others excel in membership benefits. All of it sparks our thinking about what is possible here in Maine. I also find the Alliance conference to be a tremendous source of information and contacts. Between those two organizations we really get a wealth of information, as well as models that we use to create programs specifically adapted to the Maine environment. And of course, the Nonprofit Quarterly has great stuff in it that we use to build our own house and to organize our conferences and trainings.

One of MANP’s members is Greg Ouellette, the long-time executive director of Pine Tree Society. Established in 1936, Pine Tree Society provides a variety of services on a statewide basis to approximately 4,000 Maine children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities each year. These services range from case management for families of young children with developmental disabilities, to a fully-accessible summer camp for children and adults with disabilities.

I was initially reluctant to join the Maine Association of Nonprofits. At the time we were an Easter Seal organization. I used to go to the Maine Association of Nonprofits trainings but never joined. Then along came this tremendous opportunity where we could access group health insurance through the MANP, and I immediately made up my mind. Their program, in effect, offered substantial savings in insurance costs. This provided us enormous value; it was a solution that was specific to our own circumstances in Maine.

Now we can provide better-quality coverage. It also affords us the opportunity to put more dollars in other employee programs and benefits. This is critical to us. We’re very lucky to have employees that have been with us for 10, 15, even 20 years. Therapists, case managers, deaf interpreters — all are highly skilled and committed people, not to mention our frontline workers. They’re very valuable to us. This program allows us to give back a little more to them.

In addition to providing the benefits that enable us to retain key employees, the Maine Association of Nonprofits helps us train them. They offer a variety of staff training programs that are very cost-effective and timely. Marketing, development, grant writing, board governance, you name it — we have people attending their trainings monthly all over the state.

After you’ve been in a job as long as I have, you begin to get the notion that you know it all. But, so much of what we do is concerned with the here and now. We found that by belonging to the Maine Association of Nonprofits we could learn a lot about what is going on elsewhere that might be useful to us here. Our MANP membership has also brought us into regular contact with other groups functioning in the same environment that we are. We found that as the Maine Association of Nonprofits grew, we didn’t have to go out of state as often to get the kind of resources that we wanted and needed. The Association has allowed us to focus more on Maine and the particular people that we serve.

We have one rather unique program that I think illustrates this point well. The Kids’ Project adaptive equipment program involves local, volunteer woodworkers who construct adaptive equipment for children with special needs. They construct everything from simple desktop easels to complex adaptive tables and chairs. Each piece of The Kids’ Project equipment is designed specifically for the children. You see, here we’re using a local skill base combined with the latest concepts in design.

In some ways, this is reflective of how the Maine Association of Nonprofits adapts to our needs as nonprofits in Maine — it is locally focused, but it brings the best in national ideas and resources to bear on the work we do locally.