FALMOUTH — In the process of my winding down a four-decade career in the nonprofit sector, multiple thoughts about nonprofits, and the environment they operate in, have bubbled to the surface. Most reflect an admiration and appreciation for the inspiring organizations and individuals that contribute selflessly to enhancing community life, but concerns about external and internal factors affecting the sector have also crept in.

These concerns center on issues that are steadily eroding public trust in the nonprofit sector and its effectiveness, since a high level of trust in both the mission focus and transparency of operations of nonprofits is critically important to their success. My hope is that these issues can begin to be addressed in order to help nonprofits reclaim the ground that reflects the highest ideals of the sector’s work.

My first hope is that government leaders stop attacking a sector that they’ve long had a mutually beneficial partnership with to provide important services to vulnerable populations. Caring about the less fortunate is a Maine value we all want to uphold, and positioning nonprofits as “takers” or unnecessary burdens on the taxpayer to score cheap political points is both unfair and untrue.

In reality, nonprofits save taxpayer dollars by assuming a burden government would ordinarily have to take on, and nonprofits enhance public investment by leveraging private resources and bringing money into the state.

The media also play a role in this diminishing public trust, as cases of mismanagement in nonprofits tend to be highlighted more often than those in other sectors. This leads the public to believe that the sector is unprofessional, which is also not true. More reporting on the nonprofit sector’s business acumen and economic impact would give the public a much more accurate reflection of its work.

Nonprofits also face internal challenges that compromise their effectiveness and sustainability. Disengaged boards can threaten a nonprofit’s ability to achieve its goals, and I would encourage current and future board members to recognize the honor it is to serve a nonprofit’s mission, and commit to being passionate and tireless workers for their causes. Committing to board service for the right reasons and bringing one’s skills and passions to bear to move community organizations forward should be one of the most rewarding things citizens can do in a democracy.

Also, while foundations often refer to grantees as their partners, much work remains to be done in lessening the power dynamic and programmatic funding focus that currently exists. I would encourage the foundation community to genuinely engage in conversations with their grantees to better understand the kind of funding nonprofits really need, which will help to lessen the power imbalance and will also enhance their return on investment.

And, however well intended, consistently creating new language and themes that nonprofits need to adopt in order to receive funding has not proven to be helpful in addressing nonprofits’ core needs.

The business sector benefits significantly from the impact of nonprofits on their communities, so my hope is that businesses encourage their employees to get involved with nonprofits, and that the primary focus of corporate philanthropy be to enhance communities, not generate business. The good will engendered by a genuine commitment to bettering one’s community is more than repaid.

Nonprofit staff members can also do their part in reversing the trend in declining trust, and we all can recommit our energy and purpose in productive directions. The challenges facing nonprofits are significant and it can be easy to get disillusioned, but there are also creative opportunities to explore in a transitioning environment, including expanding collaboration, and re-engineering business and program models.

Most importantly, recommitting to bringing a mission-driven, problem-solving mindset to our work will go a long way toward re-energizing us to overcome the challenges we face.

It’s essential that the general public not take the nonprofit sector for granted, as it sits on fragile ground and needs the continuing investment of resources and time. Reject the political rhetoric, be proud that your taxes fund programs and services that mirror our values, support the organizations whose work you value and recognize that a large percentage of nonprofits add value to our communities with no public funding.

It’s been an honor to spend a career in a sector that strives to mirror our highest ideals. While the nonprofit sector is certainly not perfect, I’m confident that we can reclaim the moral high ground and rebuild the public’s trust if everyone who appreciates its value recommits to those ideals.