Archive for November, 2011

Penn State Scandal Reveals Need to Screen and Monitor Volunteers

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

screen volunteersJerry Sandusky, the disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach, insists he’s no pedophile. Whether he engaged in “horseplay” or sexually abused children will be up to a jury to decide. Regardless of his claims, he certainly set things up to make it easier for young kids to become victims of his inappropriate behavior.

The details emerging in this case show that Sandusky used classic pedophile methods to get close to kids. Contrary to the stereotypical picture of an old man in a trench coat near the playground, pedophiles are skilled at building trust in kids so they have opportunities to abuse them. They “hide in plain sight” and are often known and respected by parents, teachers and other responsible adults. They are coaches, ministers, Boy Scout leaders and other volunteers.

Working on kids over a period of time, they build up trust and strive to separate the vulnerable from the adults or stronger kids who would be able to protect them.

Sandusky’s volunteer activities included running youth football camps and a charity he founded for at-risk youth. These activities gave him plenty of time with young boys. It gave him access to kids without a strong parental presence in their lives. It gave him opportunities to groom them into viewing the sexual abuse as normal, and blurring the line between good touching and bad touching.

When a popular public figure like Jerry Sandusky is the perpetrator, victims may feel even more hesitant to report abuse. They may wonder if the problem is themselves; they may think someone like Sandusky should be trusted—especially if his parents and others kids trust him.

When it comes to volunteers who have access to children or vulnerable adults, the best defense is an extremely strong defense. Conduct background screening of volunteers to keep criminals away from your organization. Run personality tests on potential leaders to determine if they have risky qualities that don’t show on the surface. And never allow an adult and a vulnerable person of any age to be alone.

Three Volunteer Management Myths

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkVolunteer management can be a satisfying and rewarding career. If you’re thinking about joining the field, it may be helpful to know some of the myths surrounding volunteers and non profits.

  1. Volunteers are free: Not true. While they do not receive wages or benefits, volunteers often do require resources such as training and supervising. The wages and benefits paid to any staff member involved with volunteers is a direct cost of having them. And keeping volunteers happy may involve buying gifts, throwing parties, or other forms of appreciation that will cost the organization money, as well.
  2. Anyone can manage volunteers: Another myth. Volunteering is on the rise, and as more people seek ways to give back or gain experience in a down economy, more organizations find they need someone to manage them. And that takes a variety of skills. For example, state and federal funding, and private grants may require extensive reporting on volunteer hours and activities. Volunteers need to be communicated with, regularly and well. And recruiting volunteers takes yet another set of skills, with networking, interviewing and screening volunteer backgrounds and criminal histories.
  3. All organizations can handle volunteers: Knowing that volunteers require management and can be a significant expense to an organization, it is worth asking if yours can take on volunteers. Ask questions such as:
  • Do you have tasks that need to be done that would be appropriate for volunteers? Where will you use volunteers?
  • Will volunteers further the mission of your organization?
  • Who will manage them?
  • What benefits will volunteers gain working with you organization?
  • What problems can you anticipate and how will they be handled?
  • And most important: Why should you bring in volunteers?

Volunteers are an investment and an asset to an organization. And while many people are suited to manage them, not everyone is. And not all non profit organizations are suited to bringing in volunteers. If you’re being recruited to be a volunteer manager, assess your skills and the organization’s needs before jumping in!