For the past 13 years, Scott Schnapp has been defending the interests of Maine’s nonprofit community, a diverse and often misunderstood group of organizations that bridge the gap between government and the private sector.

Schnapp, who plans to step down from his position as executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits in the summer of 2016, has been a key participant in highly publicized debates, such as whether large nonprofits in Maine should be required to pay property taxes.

Staunchly opposed to the property tax proposal, Schnapp testified before the Maine Legislature and mobilized MANP’s roughly 800 member organizations to speak out against it in their communities.

His side appears to have won that battle for now – “It pretty quickly fell off the table.” But Schnapp said the organizations MANP represents are under constant attack from those who don’t understand how critical a role nonprofits play in Maine, where many basic social services essentially have been outsourced by government to the nonprofit sector.

“I see us as sort of a vessel to be able to promote awareness about the sector,” he said.

In November, Schnapp took the fight to the editorial pages of the Portland Press Herald after Gov. Paul LePage stated in a post-election interview that Maine nonprofits “don’t pay their share” and that “they are takers, not givers.”

Schnapp noted in his Nov. 17 guest editorial that nonprofits contribute nearly one-fifth of Maine’s gross state product, employ more than 84,000 residents, pay more than $3.6 billion in annual wages and contribute more than $10 billion to the Maine economy.

He said LePage’s statement “maligns a sector comprised of highly valued organizations such as veterans groups, domestic violence prevention programs, churches, museums and theaters, hospitals, economic development organizations, educational institutions, land trusts, social service agencies, environmental organizations and many others that not only play a significant economic role in Maine, but also enhance our quality of life.”

In addition to politically motivated threats, nonprofit organizations in Maine have faced financial challenges as a result of economic stagnation and the shrinking middle class, Schnapp said.

It’s no longer enough for executives at nonprofits to be tireless advocates for their respective causes, he said. They also must be organized, pragmatic, efficient, fiscally conservative and effective marketers. They need to think like businesspeople.

“What’s changed the most is that leadership has become more professionalized,” Schnapp said.

Teaching nonprofit managers the importance of what Schnapp calls the “head piece” (as opposed to the “heart piece”) has been one of the association’s primary aims since it was founded in 1994.

Under Schnapp’s leadership, MANP has become highly effective at achieving that goal through management training, leadership development and skill-building programs, research and assessment tools, technical assistance and advocacy resources. It also offers affordable health care and benefit plans to its member organizations.

Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland, said most of Maine’s nonprofits are small operations like hers. As such, they don’t have the financial resources to spend a lot of money taking professional-development classes or attending leadership conferences.

Hutchins, who served as MANP’s board president from 2009 to 2011, said that under Schnapp’s leadership it has carved out an important niche by offering a variety of training programs that even the smallest organizations can afford.

MANP also has led the nonprofit community by example, she said. It has developed into a financially sustainable organization with unwavering integrity and proven value to the community.

“It’s an organization that practices what it preaches,” Hutchins said.

CHANGING TIMES

Maine’s nonprofit sector has been going through a transition in recent years, Schnapp said. Starting in the 1960s, it grew at a rapid rate for more than 40 years, and then the recent economic recession hit. Now, many organizations are consolidating or fading into obscurity.

“This is a state that’s poor and has a limited amount of philanthropic resources,” he said.

Unlike a failed business, a failed nonprofit often continues to exist, Schnapp said. But with limited human and financial resources, it is difficult for such an organization to be effective.

Another component of MANP’s mission has been to teach nonprofit executives how to diversify their sources of revenue, he said. They should not rely too heavily on one-time funding sources such as grants, or on donors who may not want their money being used for business operations. Other funding sources include benefit events, in-kind donations, merchandise sales and partnerships with local government, other nonprofits or even for-profit companies.

However, Schnapp warned that nonprofit groups should be wary of corporations seeking to form partnerships, because they may have ulterior motives such trying to shine up a tarnished public image.

“There’s less of what I would call pure corporate philanthropy,” he said. “Nonprofits need to be careful not to be taken advantage of.”

Schnapp, who is 59, said he intends to spend some time on projects here in Maine and nationally once he steps down. He said he doesn’t know who will become his successor, or whether MANP will continue as an independent organization after his departure. One of his goals for the coming year will be to help determine the best path forward, which he said could include consolidating with another like-minded group.

MANP will do whatever is necessary to ensure its long-term viability, he said.

“We’re the best-practice organization, so we need to walk the talk,” Schnapp said.