Vetting the Volunteer

 Posted by on October 10, 2012
Oct 102012


There I was, like so many others in the lunchrooms of corporate America, watching a coworker read 50 Shades of Grey.  She asked my opinion, and I politely declined to share it.  I haven’t read the book.  I’m not interested in passing judgment on the book.  Plenty of other folks have read it and rendered their verdicts.  The conversation with my coworker didn’t make me curious about the book, but it did make me think about ripples in the pond.  What might this mean for those who create, maintain, and protect the organizations that will receive new and eager kinksters who choose to go beyond reading?

BDSM organizations exist in most, if not all regions of the country now.  You can find them in New York and California, yes, but you can also go to places like San Antonio, Texas and get your kink on.  These diverse organizations tend to have a common theme; they’re volunteer run.  Now this can be a really good thing.  It does keep costs down, including conventions.  It can mean that people who live the life can share their experiences with others, have perspective heard, and have a stake in the outcome.  It can also mean they are not adequately equipped for the job.  In a worst case scenario, a volunteer might be a person who should under no circumstances get the job, unpaid or otherwise.

I have been a volunteer for a number of events and organizations, both kink and vanilla.  I know it is often a thankless experience and I have no desire to cast doubts on the hard working people who bring these things together.  That said, as our circles expand to ever larger sizes and with a volunteer base, there is a limit to how well an organizer can vet or train those who enter. There is also a limit to how well the group can vet or train the organizer.  The scale of our communities is such that it is time to set some selection criteria, at least at the top.

It would be impractical to vet in detail every single attendee, everyone who volunteers, everyone who wants free admission to the next event in exchange for taking tickets. Still, when it comes to those in control, those who manage organizations’ finances, who choose presenters, who set curricula for ongoing classes or workshops, etc., having an idea of who is in those shoes should matter to us.  Not only should we know who they are, but they should be well trained for the task at hand.  The larger the group, the more important this becomes.  A small organization with less than fifty regulars might not have the resources to get fancy.  However if you’re running a recurring event of 200 people or a convention, you’d best have some organizational skills on hand and a small team of strong helpers to keep an eye on the crowd.

The kinky community is famous and notorious for accepting everyone.  Every newbie gets the speech about “your kink is not my kink and that’s ok.”  We are encouraged to accept all and discriminate against none. However, when it comes to those who control our experiences, who vet the teachers, and who can make or break an experience for an entire group, we should be more selective.

Every group should set their own standards well in advance of making a decision.  When someone steps up for a key position, do the research.  Consider the facts, and then make a rational decision. What kind of research you do depends.  If they are in a fiscally responsible position, a credit check might be appropriate.  If they will be instructing individuals who might be considered at-risk, maybe a background check.  It can sound daunting, but simple criminal background checks are cheap and readily accessible.  They can be done online for under $100 and I’ve done them for as little as $25.

The policies for this kind of check will need to be in writing and should be followed every time to protect the organization.  Strongly consider getting legal advice on what you do draw up to be sure it passes muster.  Once you’ve set your base standards of ‘no axe murderers’ and written it all down, you’ll need to deal with the results of your checks.   Is it ok if the potential organizer had a traffic violation?  Probably so.  What if they’re on the sex offender registry? Probably not!  If you need a shuttle bus driver, look for a history of DUIs, and put the person with a drunk driving record behind a desk, not the wheel.  They can contribute to the organization, but choose wisely in assigning roles.

Vetting those who volunteer their time is an unattractive process and can be socially uncomfortable.  Legal butt-coverage and paperwork is not why we go to fetish events!  Still, an unspoken goal of every kinky group is to keep undesired legal sidetracks and incidents to a minimum. Clear standards for those who lead and due diligence like background checks can help protect the organizations we love and keep opportunities flowing for many years to come.