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December 11, 2018

Addressing workforce challenge 'No. 1 priority' for Maine nonprofits

Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, today called on the state’s nonprofit organizations to address the workforce challenge as a matter of urgency.

“Our No. 1 priority has to be talent,” she said in response to a question following her presentation on the impact of nonprofits on Maine’s economy at Tuesday’s Eggs & Issues forum hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Hutchins noted that all sectors are grappling with a similar problem of filling staff, including leadership, positions given Maine’s aging population and workforce.

“We are going to have leadership positions in every sector that are going to need to be addressed,” she said, while acknowledging that “it’s a complicated nut to crack.”

For nonprofits, she said that tackling that shortage will really come down to offering competitive wages that, at the very least, keep up with inflation.

“The for-profit sector is having a problem even with our companies being able to offer competitive wages,” she said, noting that nonprofits will have to do the same. When passing budgets, she said nonprofits should look at whether their employees are being adequately paid, “because it’s going to cost a lot more to replace them.”

Hutchins also underscored the need to invest in new talent and recruit in a way that increases the diversity of the workers and competitiveness of the jobs.

Asked how the workforce shortage is affecting the pool of volunteers for nonprofit boards, she made a pitch to everyone in the room that “It’s great being on a board, you should all try it.”

Every fall, her organization trains 25 young professionals on how to become effective nonprofit board members. She said her message to young people is as follows: “This is a tremendous opportunity for you to test your leadership skills outside of your place of business or work and to connect with your colleagues who are also wanting to make a difference.”

Earlier, Hutchins focused her prepared talk on the impact of the nonprofit sector in Maine, particularly the 2,947 public charities that file tax returns. The latest data show that they contribute $12.6 billion to the economy annually through wages paid, retail and wholesale purchases and professional services contracted — up from $11 million contributed in 2014.

The latest facts and figures will be released in the Maine Association of Nonprofits’ upcoming “Adding Up Impact” report, due out in January.

Addressing the question of why Maine has so many nonprofits — almost twice the national average — Hutchins noted that Mainers rely less on county government than other parts of the country. She also noted the state's greater geographic size in comparison to the other New England states.

“A food pantry in York is not going to help people face food insecurity in Aroostook,” she noted. “We need more infrastructure when we have such a large geography.”

She further illustrated her point with concrete examples of several nonprofits contributing to the greater good in different ways, from caring for the mental and physical well-being of Mainers of all ages to providing financial support to immigrants — and said the state depends on strong partnerships between business, government and nonprofits.

Hutchins had a similar message in her introduction to the recently published Mainebiz Giving Guide produced in cooperation with her organization, writing: “A thriving nonprofit sector, working as a valued partner with business and government, is integral to the state’s future prosperity.”

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