Engaging Volunteers or Hiring Staff without a Background Check is Trouble with Steve Durie
Watch the Interview
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, it’s Hugh Ballou. Another episode of The Nonprofit Exchange live, it’s Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis. Russell, how are you doing today out there in beautiful Colorado?
Russell Dennis: After a snowfall last night, the sun has come back out. Everything is beautiful out here in Colorado.
Hugh: Love it. People on the podcast can’t see it, but you’ve got a shiny head. Is that part of the sign, or is that just the light over your head?
Russell: All of this glare helps keep the focus off of the shadow here with all of the gray hair in it, so there is a method to my madness shining the light here.
Hugh: I see that. Russell, the real person. We have a guest who is also a resident of Colorado, but he is a new resident of Florida. We are going to hear from him in just a minute. Today’s topic is protecting your culture by doing effective vetting of the people you’re bringing in, be it volunteers or paid staff. Steve Durie, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Steve Durie: Thank you, Hugh. It’s good to be here.
Hugh: So good to have you. Tell us a little bit about yourself, some background, and how did you arrive at what you’re doing now? Why is it important to you?
Steve: I have been doing this for 15 years. Where it started was when I was actually volunteering in youth organizations with my kids. My question was: Aren’t you going to run a background check on me? They’re like, No, we don’t do that. We trust everyone. Previous to that, I had a lot of database experience in a consulting company in consulting on justice projects, that is, how to share criminal data. I took that knowledge about sharing criminal data and my passion for keeping my own kids safe and know that I was going to be working as a volunteer and turned it into a business 15 years ago. My kids are a little older now, and my wife Laura and I have a special needs son. He is an adult; he is 31. But he is also extremely vulnerable and needs protection. He doesn’t live at home anymore. And that is a constant worry about Tommy, whether the people who are working alongside him are safe. It does transcend not just our children in their youth, but into any vulnerable population. That is a broad brushstroke is anybody who is vulnerable, and we can look at each group individually as to how to best screen someone and check them out if we are working with children, youth, or vulnerable adults, or elderly, or single people. There are a lot of different. Vulnerable populations who may need our work.
Hugh: Absolutely. It’s really good to know about people. In the work that Russell and I do through SynerVision, we help people build their strategy out. Part of that is competencies. We have created a new paradigm that replaces the position description, and the first of four colors is the competency. When you look at somebody’s competency, you also want to do a background check so that you can validate what is on their resume, that they actually do that. Are there some hidden things in there? Finding out about the people. What is their performance going to be?
Role and responsibility? If it’s financial, there is another level of compliance. I used to live in a town of 30,000, and one year, there were two nonprofits that had treasurers make away with $750,000, trusted friends and community members. They didn’t do an adequate background check or have safeguards in place.
The third color is the culture fit. If somebody has a history of conflict or abuse, you don’t really want them spoiling your culture.
The fourth color is expectations, but the vetting the person, competency, not only are they clean, but they also fit the culture. There are lots of reasons in any kind of enterprise to do the background check. I think it’s especially important when we are dealing with people who are compromised, like your son, like children, like older adults. There are lots of opportunities for people to abuse the system. You have worked with nonprofits so far, have you?
Steve: Our focus of the company SecureSearch is with the nonprofit community. It’s been over 15 years; we have served over 10,000 nonprofits as their partner for screening their staff, their volunteers, and their board of directors. We are a full-service company. We can do anything, from resume verification to child awareness for those who work with children.
Hugh: Resume verification. I heard a guy one time, and his resume said he went to Yale and studied finance. I found out later he didn’t graduate. People make up things on their resume. That’s a new piece of data.
Are nonprofits any more vulnerable than for-profits? Is there an attitude of difference there? You told a story about you being a volunteer, and you ask about the background check. They said we trust people. Do you find that to be more common than not?
Steve: I find that to be pretty common in the nonprofit culture where they are really hungry for people to serve and to help. With that, sometimes they actually push aside the fact that these people may have a nefarious past. They are looking to quickly onboard them, get them into a position. They are happy to have a warm body. They are happy to have the skillset the individual brings to the table. Referred by a close friend or family member, so they are not even thinking about screening them, especially if they are not working directly with a child. When they are working with a child, it’s more in our consciousness that we should put the best people with these kids to keep in faith. But what about people who are just working alongside one another? The workplace violence conflict. We need to focus on making all of our communities and all of the workplaces as safe as possible. It’s the responsibility of the organization to do so. But nonprofits, because of their compromised budgets in some cases, they are spending their money elsewhere to maybe grow their projects and they are not really thinking about the people, if they are safe in the environment they are working in. In corporate America, it is common, and in the nonprofit arena, it is not as common. We are here as a voice to raise the awareness that everybody should be doing this, whether you have one employee or thousands.
Hugh: You and I met at a conference last week, CEO Space. Had I met you—I came in late in the week because I had conflicts—and said, “Hey Steve, what is it that you do?” and you say, “I do background searches,” and I say, “I have a nonprofit. Why is it important for me to do that?” How would you respond to me?
Steve: As a nonprofit?
Hugh: If I say, “I have a nonprofit. Why is it important for me to do that?”
Steve: You touched on this. It’s about reducing risk and reducing liability. Liability is big. It all ties into the overall image in the community they’re serving. It’s protecting their image. It doesn’t have to be their first priority. The first priority is protecting those who are part of their organization. You have to look at the entire hierarchy of your staff from your board of directors down to your volunteers. Oftentimes, there are people in between the upper board and the volunteers who are just coming on who get missed. They didn’t think it was important to screen them. Really it’s about lowering your liability and lowering your risk, or at least managing your risk. You can’t be a risk-free organization; that doesn’t exist. It’s about, how do you take steps and utilize your budget dollars to minimize your risk as much as you possibly can?
Hugh: Russell, you and I interface with a lot of nonprofit leaders and boards. I find there is a lot of boards that aren’t up to speed on how to be the board. They think about being in charge of governance sometimes. They sometimes realize they are responsible for financial oversight. I don’t think boards realize they have a liability whatever happens. Do you find, Russell, in your work that boards are blind to this element as well?
Russell: I have talked to people who really don’t have a core grasp of the notion of having liability insurance for the board of directors officers as they are putting these things together. They don’t understand how critical that is and what risks are involved. A large part of the problem is people don’t know what they don’t know. Nonprofit leaders, these are people centered in the idea of making the world a better place and service to others. They are more prone to take people at their word as opposed to doing any sort of digging. They may not think there is a big risk associated with bringing a person on. It’s nice to be able to take people at their word, but it depends on what kind of work you’re doing, who you’re serving, the assets of your organization you’re protecting. It never occurs to people there may be a scurvy elephant roaming around the zoo. You have to have a look at who you’re dealing with. People aren’t always who they say they are. That is just the reality of it. It’s important to look at these things up front because if you don’t have a person who is not in integrity in there in the first place, you don’t have to figure out how to get rid of them later on when you could have problems. The reputation of your organization could be at stake. You just have these horror stories. There was a veterans’ organization a few years ago that saw their reputation fall apart because the CEO was playing games with the books. Always you have to think in terms of protecting yourself with your regulations, with internal controls, with the way money and other assets are handled. More important, how you deal with the people you serve. You can really get in a lot of trouble easily and quickly without in the least bit intending to.
Hugh: Steve, did that shake loose any thoughts for you?
Steve: Yeah, it actually did. I do believe that nonprofits feel that the people they bring in have the heart for what they do. If they have a heart for what they do, then they are probably good people. I really think that is a mistake a lot of them make. Taking that assumption because they say they believe in what you believe in, they have the passion for what you have a passion for, that doesn’t mean they have the same background you have. A lot of people are trying to use their influence they currently have in the community, it could be a leader in the community, to find their way into a vulnerable group. That is the MO of a pedophile is to build up trust in everybody around them, including building themselves up to be leaders in the community so that everybody seems to trust them, and that is when they can get to the vulnerable children and build relationships without anybody thinking twice about it.
Screening is not going to catch everybody, only if they have been arrested or convicted of something in the past. It’s only one part of the puzzle for keeping not only your organization safe, but those that you serve. It goes much more beyond the background check. I don’t think anyone can feel that they have that warm fuzzy feeling now that I have implemented background checks. I’m good, I got a green check mark for that person, I can just let them go. That is a wrong approach. You really need to have a conscious community around that everybody is the eyes and ears of the organization. We all have to keep our eyes on who we’re working alongside. If they are doing something we believe is incorrect or harmful to the organization or to those who serve, to make sure we all feel empowered to report those things, especially for physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, whatever you might see. It’s up to us to report it.
Hugh: There is another realm that Russell talked about with having your policies and procedures up to date. You just pointed out, we have to pay attention. That is part of our responsibility as a leader to see what is in front of us. I never realized people who are—and it makes sense if you talk about it—a pedophile positions themselves in a place of trust and then continues to validate that, so they throw people off guard. No, it couldn’t possibly be true. I have known people in that position before, and they were busted. Eventually you got caught. How long does it take and how many people do you hurt in the process? At least do your background check, which also helps relieve your liability. I’m sure some of the companies that Russell talked about that issue board insurance require a background check so they have less liability.
I didn’t warn you: When Russell comes in, he asks you the hard questions. I’ll ask you easier ones first while he formulates the hard ones.
Give us an example where people were trusting, and it really created damage. Then you came in and maybe you helped them get a process in place to prevent it in the future. Without naming names, what are the kinds of things that people should be alert to?
Steve: There are so many stories. Some have been recently in the news that everybody is aware of. One is USA Gymnastics with Dr. Nassau. Building trust, not only from the organization, but with the parents of these young children in the gymnastics program, and then going on to abuse them for years without ever getting caught. Sandusky at Penn State, same thing. He was able to testify with his peers that showering with young boys was just about cleanliness. They are always going to try to lie about who they are and have somebody believe it. They are masters at it. They never take any responsibility for their actions. It’s that narcissistic behavior on the pedophile side.
Another story has nothing to do with a criminal record. This was a nonprofit organization that had drivers and they were doing deliveries. One of the individuals when we met with them, and we were on site for this one, he was in the state of Colorado, but he had a Tennessee drivers’ license. He said he had been here for four years. I asked him why didn’t he have a Colorado license. He said that he lost his license in Colorado from too many speeding tickets, so he had to go to my parent’s house in Tennessee to get a license. He is volunteering for an organization that drives one of their vehicles.
People can get around from their past and get away from their past, whether it’s criminal behavior or not. It could be resume fudging. That happens more than you know, especially for certain positions, for executive director positions, finance positions, COO type positions, where they can say they have a Master’s degree in finance. They really just have a Bachelor’s, or they never finished college. They put it on their resume for years, and nobody questioned it. There are stories where the CEO of RadioShack, and RadioShack is falling from grace, but the CEO never had his Master’s degree in business, never had his MBA. It was a reporter who figured it out and started reporting on it. Then he resigned or got let go.
Same thing with the president of the business school of Harvard. She had miscommunicated on her resume that she had a Ph. D, and she never did. Organizations that we all know about and have heard about, down to around the corner with businesses in your neighborhood or possibly even your organization. It’s important to vet the higher-end positions in your organization. It’s not just about the volunteers. I can go on forever about why it’s important for the volunteers, but anybody working in your office, making sure you are looking at embezzlement or money laundering or anything that deals with your budget, your finances, your books, make sure those are always intact and that you are bringing on the best people.
Background checks don’t always catch everybody. They may never have been arrested before. I am going to go back to what Hugh was talking about with the pedophile. Eventually they get caught. That’s not true. They never get caught, and they die with their secrets. The average pedophile molests 137 children in their lifetime without ever getting arrested for it. That is where the training is more important than the background check and being aware and keeping their eyes open.
Hugh: Wow. I guess there is some people who will be polite and they think it’s not polite to do a background check. Have you come across that? How do you respond to that?
Steve: For the last 15 years, we have dealt with that. I don’t know exactly where that really stems from other than they feel like it’s unkind to ask someone to sign a consent form to do a background check. They are giving of their time, and I feel like I am invading their privacy if I ask them for this information. But you have to think about your organization and its reputation and why you have that organization set up in the first place. Then you have to make sure you bring on the best people. You just need to frame it differently: we are a culture of safety instead of just being haphazard about who we bring on. I think that everybody who comes on board would feel more confident with the person sitting next to them, with the person they are running an errand with to Office Depot if they are going in the same vehicle together. You will have a higher level of confidence that the organization did the right thing before you came.
Hugh: Where is the person who said, “Oh, I don’t want to be impolite to them,” so they back down from not realizing they are being impolite to everyone else in the culture. I don’t want to make trouble, but if they don’t do that, they will make trouble for everybody else.
What about the person who says, “I don’t have time for that?” That sounds like too much trouble.
Steve: The one issue with nonprofits is wearing so many hats and being so busy. I think that sometimes the background check seems like a daunting task, especially if they have never done them. First, I have to vet a company. I don’t know where to go to trust somebody. I don’t want to do all the paperwork. I have enough things going on. I don’t even understand background checks. How am I going to do this? I don’t have a Human Resources background, nor do I have a HR director on staff.
That is where SecureSearch makes it a little unique. We can come in understanding that that is one of your pain points on not having enough people to do all of the tasks you have to do. We made everything paperless. Not only are the consent forms, but also the entire process of signing up is paperless. Everything is the click of a button. The applicants, whether they be your board of directors, staff, or volunteers, they do all of the data entry. All you’re doing is sending an email invitation. Simple as that.
Hugh: Wow. If I came to you and said I have ten volunteers and I need to take them through a background check, then you’d give me a consent form for them to sign, with permission to do that.
Steve: The way you phrased that is interesting, that you give them a consent form. It’s actually against the law for us to provide a template consent form. We provide samples. All consent forms are the organization’s form. It’s not my form. We provide a sample, but it is really up to each organization to go through legal counsel and make sure everything is in there that needs to be in there and that it meets their federal and state laws. We try to do our best with our samples to make sure they are good, but you should only use that as a framework.
Hugh: Before you can do the background check, I have to have them sign a form though.
Steve: Yes. That form can be in paper, or it can be through our paperless volunteer and applicant portal that is called Search My Background that we have. If everything is in the portal electronically, and they sign a signature box either with their finger on a mobile device or the mouse of their computer. That signature will map to all the documents in the system so that everything is signed and everything is provided to the applicant.
Hugh: Where I was headed with that, and I thank you for the clarification on the language, where I was headed with that is I would say I have my ten volunteers and I need to run them through the process. Would you suggest to me that I do it on myself as well?
Steve: Well, somebody should run one on you. But if you want to at least have something in the “file,” whether it be a digital file or a file folder in a lockable filing cabinet, having your own in there is a good idea, especially to report to the board that if you are the executive director, it started with you. Sometimes you can be surprised on what you might see on your own.
We had an executive director in Minnesota who had a small nonprofit. I think it was five or ten volunteers based on what he told me over the phone. This was quite a few years ago. When I was small enough and able to see the background checks coming in on a regular basis, I pulled it open and said, “Oh, I talked to that gentleman on the phone.” He signed up and ran his background check; he had three pages of felonies on his own. He never ran another background check with us. I think he was curious as to if his own background check would come up and expose him as a customer. There was nothing I could do to share it with the greater group of that organization. There is a lot of risk out there. It can start with that executive director. I don’t think the executive director should be the one running the background check; it should be pushed by the board that the executive director have a background check.
Hugh: Absolutely. Nobody should be exempt from it. Everybody should go through it. The founder, the executive director.
Hugh: Great. We are almost halfway through this interview. Russell, I’m sure that you have formulated a great question for our guest.
Russell: As I was saying earlier, a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know. I think it starts with going from a place of what do I know, what have I been told, what don’t I know, and where did the information I get come from? How do I know what I know?
I think my first question would be all quality information. How can you get quality information to make sure that what you’re hearing can be verified?
Steve: That is a really good question. There are a lot of background screening companies in the U.S, thousands really. Everybody approaches business differently. Some are very small, that concept of working out of your garage, and they might not have a website. They might be in it just for the profit. There are lots of different data points to put together a good background check. The problem I see with the nonprofit side is they are learning on these database products to be the be-all end-all product because it’s fast and it’s inexpensive. They think because somebody might be calling it a national search that it truly is. But it isn’t. I like to think of the database searches as a net. If you can picture the map of the United States and now you’re casting this net across the United States, what is the net made up of? Holes strung together is the way I’d like to put it.
I want you to remember that while it might be national—we call it multi-state—there are going to be holes. In some areas of this net there will be tears and huge holes versus tightly knit holes in other areas. You have this product that a lot of the nonprofits like to order because they think it’s national, they think it’s an easy, inexpensive way to launch into the background checks, and they don’t realize the risks that are still going to be there. They are not conducting what we call a best-in-class background check. Nonprofits have to be careful.
To answer your question about data, we take three different aggregation data points from the database and merge them together, eliminating the duplicate points. Other companies will buy data from these aggregate groups of data, and they will hang it on their own internal servers and ping against that data for months before they refresh it. That’s how you get the $2 background checks for some of these large nonprofits. I’m not saying everybody does it, but in order to reduce the cost to meet what an expectation might be for a nonprofit, which is cheap, these organizations are going to give you bad and old data.
We refresh our data every week, in some cases like the sex offender registries, for some every two weeks. But the oldest refresh we have is 30 days for our entire database. Again, it’s a merge of three different data points coming together. We didn’t get into this business primarily to make a profit; we got into this business to protect those who need to be protected.
Russell: That’s it. It’s setting that intention right up front. When you talk to people, you have to set an intention up front about what it is you’re doing. When you talk to people who might be new that we need to help, but understand we are going to be looking into some things, asking you questions for the sake of transparency, and direct about it. Who, what, when, where, why, and how? We keep our questions as open in that way as we can so that we get some meaningful information. I think that people who have things to hide may balk a little bit at this directness. Somebody is fidgeting, and they are talking about how much time this is taking, why you need to know that. In my head, that will be a red flag. What say you?
Steve: A hidden benefit of the background check implementation is the bad ones kind of leave in the guise of night. They don’t come back tomorrow. You actually said, “Hey, we take it seriously, we are going to have a consent form for you to sign. We will call your references. We will check in on who you say you are.”
That’s another thing, references. If you are not calling references, whether you outsource it to an organization, I recommend doing it internally so you can hear the nuance of the phone, the pregnant pauses of someone being asked, “Is this somebody you would bring back into your organization if you could?” and they go, “Hmm, well, I don’t know about that.” If you outsource that, it’s hard for somebody to put that into words on a report. I recommend if you have the time to do it yourself. If you have the money, you can outsource it. References are just as important as the background check. The background checks of course can be criminal. They can also verify your resume, education, employment. It’s not always just looking at their criminal records, but making sure they are who they say they are.
Hugh: While you are on that track, what kinds of background checks are there? Go over that again.
Steve: There are lots of different types of background checks. We want to get nonprofit organizations to stop thinking about using the database just for looking for a criminal or a sex offender. Because of the analogy I used with the net with all the larger holes and tears, you need to look at each applicant holistically. Instead of where your organization is serving or based and the geography and how that might look in a database search, you need to look at the applicant.
John could be a resident of one place for his whole life, and Mary has lived in seven different places in seven years. Mary, you are going to have to do more on because there are possibilities that the database has missed where Mary lives, they weren’t up to date, and you are going to add a county courthouse search or a statewide repository search if it exists, like it does in Colorado. Other states have that, too. You are going to need to start with a foundation and then lay additional due diligence on top of that to get a good profile for each applicant instead of one size fits all.
The criminal side, you break out into two different things. We have state and local crimes that you find in a database. You have the sex offender crimes that are in the sex offender registry. Then you will have crimes against the federal government or federal-related crimes. A lot of people think of these as the white-collar crimes, the Bernie Madoffs or the Martha Stewart crime where she got involved in the stocks. Yes, but inter-state kidnapping is also a federal crime. Money laundering and profiteering is a federal crime. Any building on federal lands. A lot of organizations and companies lately neglect ordering a federal criminal search. That can come back to bite them if they don’t search it.
There are a lot of other things, too. Motor vehicle searches, I mentioned. Credit reports we can do. You can do the education verification. International criminal and credit. Motor vehicles. We have 165 different services available to any organization, and most organizations look at about five.
Russell: What are some of the training opportunities? Part of the challenge is training nonprofit leaders or other people about what the benefits are and the dangers of neglecting to do due diligence. In other words, what are the things that you’re doing to assist people to understand the value of it so that they actually have this awareness? It’s one thing to bring somebody in. Somebody could slide under the radar after you have done your search. Maybe something changes. People need to have an idea of what sort of things they need to look out for to make sure that everything is good. What training do you folks give nonprofits an opportunity to take advantage of so that they have a better sense of when they may need some help digging into something?
Steve: We actually have a very specific training program that I actually founded. It’s called Safeguard from Abuse. With a focus on the vulnerable populations that a lot of nonprofits focus their energy into those communities, it is a 75-minute online and also on a DVD training program with a certificate of understanding for those that pass the test on all of the different types of abuse, not just the sexual abuse, but neglect, physical, and emotional abuse, diving deep into what they are, diving deep into how to recognize when a child is being abused. So many organizations have that fear of having a sexual predator in their midst, so we do focus more time and attention in their personality traits, their grooming behaviors, understanding the personality of that pedophile.
The most important thing is raising the awareness overall through the training, but empowering each person who goes through the video to be a mandated reporter and to understand that they can’t help if they put their head in the sand. They have to be empowered to report, and they have to understand how to do so is very important. The awareness training is important.
My example that I like to use is Russell, you want to buy a new car. You have a brand of car in mind, and you’re getting in that car and heading down the road. All of a sudden, you start to see that car everywhere. It’s now in your awareness. It’s always been there, just like the characteristics of people who harm kids. They’re still doing it in front of us; we’re just not aware of it. We didn’t raise our awareness level high enough to see what’s always been there but invisible to the eye. It’s really what we focus on is what we see. What we focus on we become as well. We want to make sure that we can train enough people to end child abuse, or at least if we can save one child, it’s all worth it.
Russell: Every time you buy a new car, everybody buys the same make, model, and color that very same day. I was thinking about all of these things. There are people who are listening to this, and they may be leaning back in their chairs thinking, No, I never did any of this stuff up front. Now I have 60 people. How do I know that I don’t have somebody like this in my midst right now? Is there some type of organizational audit or assessment that you can do?
Steve: We can definitely help. What you’re saying is I gotta go retro. I have to go back to day one, and anybody who is still with me, screen them. That seems like an invasion maybe, or a daunting task, or maybe you’re just thinking, I’ll start with the next person. Now you will set yourself up for some difficulties being fair and equitable. If it’s just Susan who just walked in the door but you did not go back five years ago and do this, once you implement the strategy, you have to implement it at any level and go back and do everybody. Starting top down is a good approach. Start at the top, and push down through the hierarchy of individuals in your organization. It’s about resetting the reason for why you’re doing it. You are resetting the fact that you have this new program that you’re implementing. Our insurance company wants us to do it. Most insurance companies want you to do it anyway. If you have to put it on something else, you can just say it’s a new requirement. It could be just your organization’s requirement. Once it’s a new requirement, it’s a requirement. Everybody has to do it.
Russell: Having everybody do it ensures that you don’t have somebody out there who wants to take you to court saying they’re being singled out because I’m a woman or I’m black or I’m over 50, or just anything they can pull out to say why it doesn’t apply. We talked about that comfort level that people have. I don’t want to offend or put anybody out. How do you help people who decide to do something like that do it in the face of the apprehension that they may have and the fear of offending somebody, implementing it seamlessly? What are some of the things you do to help people through that?
Steve: That’s a good question. We help organizations put together a background screening policy. It’s all about policies. Sometimes you might have a policy- With those who work with kids, you might have a child protection policy, for example. But even in that child protection policy, they don’t talk about background checks. So we need to weave in another layer of policy, and that is who do we screen, why do we screen them, how often do we screen them, and what do we order? Really it comes down to being comfortable enough with your organization and communicating that you do have policies. It’s part of your mission and vision, wherever it is that it fits in, to make it that important. You can make it unimportant and be at risk and have everyone at risk, or you can make it important and be an advocate for safety and make your organization. It’s all about preserving that organization. Amp up your image; it will help you and the community.
Hugh: Both of you are talking about people not knowing what they don’t know. There is a side that people are so close to it, you’re so involved in it, that you’re so blind to it because you are focusing on the day-to-day and the relationships. You’re blind to all of the liabilities. Having someone like you that is skilled to discuss policy procedure with I think is really a high benefit. Is that part of your service that you offer?
Steve: We offer that at no charge. Phone call conversations, any time someone wants to talk to me. It’s very individual. Each organization is very individual, and I can’t just say, Here is a template. We like to discuss what your organization looks like, the different roles and responsibilities you might have, the silos you may have, the offshoots of your organization you may have, and drill down. Like I mentioned, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Based on roles and responsibilities, you will be ordering different types of services. You may order motor vehicle for one, you may need to look at a credit report for one, but it won’t be for all. We want to make sure that you understand that as an organization, what’s available first of all, why you should order it, and then implement it. Now it’s part of your policy manual, and now it can be handed off if you were to leave the organization. If you are in charge of this role, and now you are leaving or retiring to go do something else, you can now hand it off to someone else and they won’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s important to do it on the front end, but we’ll help.
Hugh: Your link for people to find you is SecureSearch.com?
Steve: It’s actually not. I wish I had that. It’s SecureSearchPro.com.
Hugh: That’s better.
Steve: We have SafeguardfromAbuse.com.
Hugh: You have been talking about databases, and people can do a database search. Say more about that for people who don’t know what you mean by “database.” I think of a database as where I keep my CRM, where I keep my contacts. Say more about that and why it doesn’t really cut the mustard.
Steve: Okay. A lot of people think that there is one central place to go to do a background check in the United States. Just go to the FBI. They think there is something in some place to go. That is a fallacy. We are a disparate country. Our systems do not communicate with each other. What you have in Colorado doesn’t communicate with what’s in Virginia with what’s in Florida, even though we think that’s the case. Another fallacy is that a social security number is all you need to find a criminal record. We don’t find any criminal records using a social security number. That’s a myth. We use the social security number to find out what the person might be: what names they have used, what addresses they may have used, information sources.
The databases, because we have this disparate system where counties don’t communicate with states sometimes and counties don’t even communicate with each other, all of these groups work in silos. Their information or their data is also stuck in that silo. You have to search that silo to find that information. In some cases, these silos of information raise their hands and say they will share. There are companies called data aggregators to say, I will pull from this county, I will pull from that county, and this department of corrections wants to give me that information. They compile it all together. They go out to my industry and say, “Do you want to buy my information?” I was talking about having three of these aggregators that I purchase information from and weave it all together because they will miss some in one and miss some in another and I am hoping I can fill in some of the gaps. This is not 100%. Again, it’s that net with holes. It’s as good as it gets. We search over a billion records, but there are so many holes and gaps in this data. That is where the database comes in; it’s a base of data. There will be holes that you can’t rely on as your only search.
We can consult on the best approach. The best approach is you have to look at three different things. First, your due diligence, why you do what you do, why you want to screen in the first place. Do you want to protect the vulnerable? Is it because your insurance company made you do it? I don’t care what it is. We have to understand what the impetus of your diligence is.
Then we need to look at your organizational budget and say what budget dollars do you have to work with. Do you need to go find more budget dollars from another bucket in order to cover something like this? You want to implement it as soon as possible.
The third is your comfort for risk, or your risk tolerance. That is already comfortable with your organization name being in a newspaper because you didn’t do a background check, and now you brought in a pedophile into your organization. Or does that make you cringe and keep you awake at night? What does your legal counsel say? What does your insurance company say?
We need to bring those three things together and create a unique, sustainable program for your organization. That may be very different from the organization I talk to tomorrow. That’s okay. It’s unique to you and sustainable and something you’re comfortable with and can move forward with in your organization.
A long answer for a simple question.
Hugh: It’s a complex question, a complex situation. I have met people who think they can just Google somebody’s name and find out all kinds of things. What’s the fallacy in that strategy?
Steve: Did you have consent to do it, first of all? Every applicant has their legal rights. They have to provide you consent to really do a background check on them, especially if you want to use it. If you just want to be the armchair neighbor and check in on a neighbor, you have the legal right to do so. If you are going to bring this individual on board and have them fill out paperwork to be a volunteer or member of the staff, you have to get their consent. You can’t just go to Google. The data out there is only as good as the data out there. If you’re not buying it and it’s free, there is a reason it’s free. If you’re spending $59.99 to get the rest of the report, they gave you a little bit, and the rest of it is behind the scenes, that is just database information, and that is way more than you ever need to pay. You need to do a database search for only $15. It’s something you need, and something you need to build on, so you want to make sure you make it affordable on the database side so you can grow it and add the county courthouse searches as necessary.
Russell: There are some things out there that are robust. I have probably used some of the things as a revenue agent for IRS. It’s not off the shelf, and it’s not cheap by any means, but it’s good stuff. It’s important to do that. You get what you pay for. A lot of these databases that you describe pop up if you do an online directory search for the Yellow Pages, or something like that. These things get offered to you all the time.
Steve: It’s the free data available to everyone that they compile. Not everything is going to be in there as I mentioned. It will be fraught with holes. They make it look good. They put a shiny website together, and you see moving parts. It’s like they are searching as deep as they can go, and I will get every tidbit of information I need in seconds on one of these companies. You have to be careful with what you do. Everything needs to be validated at the local level. Anything from the database, any red flag, has to be validated at the court or the point of origin of the information to be accurate; otherwise, you are not supposed to see it anyway. That is why you want to work with a consumer reporting agency. SecureSearch is a consumer reporting agency. We are a member of concern consuming reporter agency, making sure we do it the right way and making sure we do validate everything at the local level before you as the customer gets to see that information.
Hugh: We are coming to the last part of our interview, Steve. SecureSearchPro.com is where people can find out more. What is the differentiator? What makes this business different? You mentioned there are lots of others out there. Why are you different from them?
Steve: That’s a good question. The first thing is the information we have to share with you is through years of experience. We have veterans in the industry on staff who run our customer service department, who run our operations, and who run the executive office. That’s number one, lots of experience.
Two is we have a heart for the nonprofit sector because we understand you are wearing many hats. You don’t have time, and you may not have the skillsets. You can feel comfortable with us. We are going to answer the phone. We will talk to you. You won’t be alone in this process. We will be there to answer any questions you may have throughout the process, and you will have someone you can work with, whether it be me, you can always work with me directly, or anyone on my staff.
We also don’t have a single salesperson on staff, so you will never be “sold” anything. We only have consultants, so we will be asking you questions and making you recommendations for best practices. You won’t hear from us five million times; we won’t pound you until you buy. We wait to hear from you again if you’d like to do this with us. That is what makes us different.
We have a heart for the nonprofit, the integrity of our data we are purchasing, and the integrity of the system we have and the compliance of our system and processes is what set us apart.
Hugh: That’s strong. It sounds like this service is incredibly expensive, thousands of dollars, to do a background check. Is that true?
Steve: No, that’s actually very far from true. Depends on the organization you’re working with. Our pricing model is geared toward the nonprofit sector, so we are extremely affordable. We actually have scalable pricing for those who have high volume discount programs. A background check, I would say that a good budget, if you want to do it right, for the criminal and sex offender and fill in all the gaps, is budget for $50 a person. It doesn’t mean it will always cost $50 a person; it may cost $15 for some, $22 for another, or $85 for another. It could be all over the board. But I would budget that to make sure you have enough allocated funds for a good solid program.
A lot of people are going to ask if they need to do background checks through the fingerprint process, too. No, you don’t. You can get good information that is disposition-based. Disposition is what happened in court, information from a secure search without ever having to do fingerprints. If you are getting government funding or state funding, they may make it mandatory, so you have to do it. But we can still make sure that the fingerprint arrest record—and that’s all it is, an arrest information source with biometrics, and not everybody gets fingerprinted when they get arrested—that the courts dismissed it or said it was a guilty verdict and enhance the arrest record database you search.
Hugh: Good. Thank you for that complete answer. This has been a very informative interview, and I’m sitting here thinking about all the organizations that I know about that have fallen short. We are going to make sure we will put a recommendation in our work that they do this early on. I think it’s that important.
As we are tying up this really good interview—Steve, thank you for the time today. It’s been exceptional—what impression, what challenge, what thought do you want to leave in people’s minds?
Steve: I guess my question is: What image do you have of your own organization? How do you look at your own organization? Do your process and your people align with it? If you are worried about that and you want to lower your risk and your liabilities as an organization and maintain the image you want to have of your own organization, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, it doesn’t take a lot of time, you don’t have to learn how to do it. We do everything for you. Just reach out to us. There is no charge to sign up or for a free consultation. Talk to one of our advocates. We’re here to help; we’re not here to sell. We hope to hear from you. It’s something you should definitely take a look at. If you’re doing the background checks now, we can talk about if you are doing them the right way. If you’re not doing them, we can help you along the path.
Hugh: Russell, thanks again for being here and being by my side. Steve, thank you for a wonderful interview. Thanks everyone for listening.
Steve: Thank you very much.