When Appointing Volunteers Make No Assumptions


This timely article is 1 of 5 being re-run in light of the Penn State sex scandal!

D. Michael Pfahl,

President, DMP Consulting, Inc.

This article first appeared in Sadlersports.com and serves as an excellent concluding article for the John Sadler series on background testing.

2890161756_a0d1b96972-300x428.jpgCall it “sixth-sense”, “gut-feeling” or that “little voice” we all have it and make the conscious choice to listen or ignore it whenever it makes itself known.  Have you ever wondered if every person who was willing to say yes and step up to help as a volunteer should have even been asked in the first place?  That is the little voice again and this gut feeling becomes even more obvious when someone is over the top with enthusiasm about volunteering for a specific duty without even being asked.

Southeastern Security Consultants Inc (www.SSCI2000.com) is the nation’s leading experts on volunteer criminal background checks.  Co-Founders Randy Rodebaugh and Byron Palmer teach their clients to make no assumptions and listen carefully to your “gut” when it comes to providing anyone with the privilege of working with youth, seniors, and people with disabilities.  These two professionals are the antithesis of cynicism but hold firmly to the belief that when it comes to selecting volunteers, adopt the axiom TRUST but VERIFY.

Mr. Palmer says, “Listen to that inner voice because it only knows the truth.  Don’t become distrustful but at the same time don’t be naïve.  Don’t assume anything or feel that you know someone because you really don’t.”

It appears the he is right.  In the first 12 months after launching Operation TLC ² in 2007, among just 24 agencies in 16 states, the Operation TLC ² screening protocol through SSCI kept 243 of 3,500 would be volunteers with serious criminal histories out of parks and recreation programs.  That’s a shocking 6.9% and these are people who signed a consent form to conduct the background check.  It is impossible to gauge the number of people with criminal histories that self-eliminated during this same time period when asked to consent to the check.  Another revealing statistic is that 13% of the potential volunteers that were disqualified committed their offense outside their state of current residence.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 63 million Americans, or 26.8 percent of the adult population, gave 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service worth $169 billion in 2009.  Let’s cut the number in half and make the assumption that 31 million volunteers today have one on one access to children, youth, and people with a disability or the elderly.  Statistically speaking and applying the 6.9% disqualification rate across the estimated 31.7 million, we potentially have 2,139,000 volunteers currently working in a volunteer position that based on their personal criminal history simply should not be provided the privilege.

Whenever asking someone to volunteer, it is true that not everyone is the right person to provide one on one service to our most vulnerable populations.  Everyone can define the word overworked.  And, it is much easier to fill a critical volunteer position without ensuring due diligence.  There is one thing for sure; this warm body recruitment method and ignoring the inner voice can be a huge mistake putting the most vulnerable people being served in jeopardy.

Being overly trusting and making assumptions about our volunteers as part of our common practice can contribute to the perception and sometimes the reality that bad things can and do happen.  It is much easier to ignore the “little voice” that sometimes screams for you to question a person’s motive.  Make no assumptions and listen intently to that little voice.

D. Michael Pfahl is president of DMP Consulting, Inc.  He has over 35 years of experience working with park, recreation, and conservation agencies to effectively train volunteers for public service.  He is the founder of Operation TLC² Making Communities Safe, a National Park and Recreation Association initiative to provide agencies with resources to help manage volunteers and ensure safety.

Photo Credit: Dru Bloomfield