I write the "M&A" update box in Practical Accountant's Profession Watch section, and one of the details we give for firms recently merged or acquired is "Niches/Concentrations."

One niche that pops up a lot is not-for-profits, a durable niche, if one that many firms, in the words of the AICPA's primer on the topic, regard as simply "low-risk" and often engage just to keep staff busy during slow periods. (The Institute maintains that this is a wrong view, as some firms soon find out.) It does seem that few firms trumpet their service to NFPs the way they do to, say, high-net-worth individuals.

Not surprisingly to anyone who's bought a gallon of gas lately, NFPs are also a niche that is being squeezed. Ketchum, a nonprofit consultancy in fundraising, reports that 83 percent of surveyed NPFs in the recent Midwest flood zone have received no additional financial support, even though almost half have seen sharper demand for services. The trend is nationwide, of course: the New York governor plans across-the-board cuts to nonprofits next year to the tune of 10 percent.

"These organizations provide critical services to their communities that are particularly important in times of crisis and rebuilding, and yet they are not always in the media spotlight," noted Ketchum president Kristina Carlson.

I'm a consumer of critical services. My son Alex was born in 1998 almost three months premature, and he spent the first year of his life in hospitals pretty much learning how to breathe. I'd like to report that that year was a closed-ended "marinading by the medical profession," in the words of one perceptive friend, a year during which things were said to me like, "I just don't want you to think you're ever going to have a normal baby."

But sadly, my family's marinading continued after Alex got home, with a diagnosis of autism. He's pretty solidly on the spectrum: He bolts from our apartment, eats hot dogs for dinner night after night, and he's 10 years old and I've never had what anyone could call a conversation with him. My visions of his adulthood do not include a lot of high net worth.

Chances are getting too good that someone reading this knows the needs I find special: Nearly half a million preemies are born annually in this country, and the diagnoses of autism are up to about one in every 160 kids. If you know such a child, you might know a family like mine, a family that was wandering the highway of life when the asphalt ended.

There, directing us onto a sturdy side road, were NFP agencies that helped get Alex round-the-clock nursing (when you have autism in your house, unbroken sleep becomes a really special need), early-intervention therapy, preschools, Saturday play programs, and camps where, this summer, Alex has learned how to swing a bat and actually hit a Wiffle Ball. Critical services indeed for a dad like me who'd never dreamed he'd need them.

Trumpeting it or not, some firms go out of their way for NFPs: Barnes Dennig; Withum Smith+Brown; Sobel and Co.; Nishball, Carp, Niedermeier, Pacowta & Co.; Kahn Litwin Renza, to name a few that recently crossed my desk. There are thousands more, so obviously there's money to be made as well as good to be done. If you work this market, you don't have to know the families they serve in this market.

But if you get the chance, meet their clients. It'll give you a special skill when you work with NFPs, the difference between simply swinging the bat and actually hitting the ball.


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