Monday, September 7, 2009

Why We're not Shaving Heads for St. Baldrick this Year.

Last year, Smuttynose Brewing hosted what we hoped to be the first of many annual St. Baldrick's events. It was a smashing success - 24 intrepid souls volunteered to have their heads shaved, and in one afternoon we raised over $22,000 for childrens' cancer research. This year,
we planned to hold an even bigger event in the middle of Market Street in front of the Portsmouth Brewery on the same day as the Portsmouth Criterium bike race (which requires Market Street to be closed to traffic), with more heads shaved and more money raised.

That was our plan, until I made the decision to cancel the event. A few weeks ago, we were finishing up our list of administrative tasks and were about to launch our big publicity push to kick things off when I received an email from the St. Baldrick's Foundation with the subject line "Welcome to our Background Screening Process." Inside was the following message:

Thank you for volunteering for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. You have been listed by your Volunteer Event Organizer as one of the key volunteers in a position of responsibility for your event. As you know, protecting the integrity of donations and the safety of our constituents is important to the reputation of the Foundation and its volunteers. Therefore, certain key volunteers are asked to complete a background screening before your event can be made ‘live’ on our website.

To be prefectly honest, I was somewhat taken aback by this; we'd done the event last year and hadn't been asked to submit to a background check. Moreover, I've worked with a number of non-profits and fundraisers and had never seen a request like this - but I went ahead and clicked on the link provided and was directed to a website with this opening screen.

I was just about to start filling out the form when something stopped me cold in my tracks. It wasn't the prospect of being investigated. As a holder of two federal Brewers Notices and a state liquor license, my background has been thoroughly scrutinized. Yes, it was partly the presumption and chutzpah of the demand that I submit to this demeaning and invasive process in exchange for the privilege of volunteering many hours of my time raising funds for this cause. But that wasn't what stopped me.

We live in a world where we are subjected to daily invasions of our privacy by government, by banks, by credit agencies, by employers, and for the most part, we all go along to get along, don't we? This time I just had to say no.

I can certainly see why any organization that depends on volunteer contributions would want to minimize sticky fingers in their collection baskets, but in my opinion this is one of the most egregious examples of lawyerly overkill that I've ever seen. I'm sure the St. Baldrick's Foundation will do fine without our event and that my little protest doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it matters to me. For our part, we'll find other worthy causes to support - Lord knows there's no shortage of worthy causes, maybe even some that don't need to verify that we're moral enough before they take our time and money.

I hope those of you who looked forward to participating this year can understand my decision, whether you agree with it or not. As always, I welcome your feedback.



Anonymous said...

Bravo have made a good call on this one...and overkill in an understatement. Tim L.(just a poor man who misses your beer!!)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your decision. As a mental health professional who works with children, I am accustomed to annual "safety" checks and support the policy when it relates to adults interacting with children. I can even understand requesting a criminal history check for persons who, as representatives of a group, are responsible for the collection of large amounts of money. But a sex offender background check for an event organizer? This pushes the limits far beyond acceptable. It is a shame that this worthy cause has taken the "fun" out of fundraising.

Anonymous said...

I am always hesitant to give out personal info, I think most people are way too ready to allow others to look into their personal records though.

Unfortunately, the loser in the end is the children's cancer research, that will not get the donation.

I hope you will be able to think of something else - a different organization, a percentage of sales, even just a change jar - that people could contribute to instead so that funds could still be raised

Anonymous said...

I suspect St Baldricks is under some pressure from legal counsel to address the sex offender issue. It is unfortunate that we have come to this point where paranoia rues the day.

Smuttynose does plenty to support the community so good for you in drawing the line.

There will be plenty of volunteers at the Portsmouth Criterium kids race that day none of whom will have had background checks. I'm pretty sure all will be fine.

Anonymous said...

Although I respect your choice, I don't agree with it. As an event organizer, you have access to names/phone number/email addresses to all participants. Some of which may be minors.

In addition, not all volunteers for St. Baldrick's are given a background screening. In my local event, the organizer and the lead treasurer were sent the request.