5 Tips to Screen Your Volunteers
More and more organizations are screening all of their volunteers—not just those that work with children, the elderly or the disabled. That’s because they understand that failing to screen everyone means they are risking their organization’s assets, reputation and safety.
Still, according to Verified Volunteer’s recent "Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report 2016," which gathered responses of 352 U.S. professionals who work for nonprofit organizations that conduct background checks on their volunteers, 43 percent of organizations still are not screening all volunteers. If your organization is part of this group, you should start thinking about screening your volunteers. As you develop your screening program, here are five tips to keep in mind.
- Use Multiple Searches. There is no single database that contains every criminal record, not even the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Since criminal records reside within multiple data sources, there is always a risk of missing a record when screening volunteers. Organizations can reduce this risk by using multiple searches to screen volunteers—for example, using a nationwide database to supplement county and state searches.
- Know Your Background Checks. Criminal record searches are unique, and organizations must understand the differences between each type of search, so they can make better decisions regarding how volunteers are screened. Many nonprofit organizations report confidence in the quality of their criminal data despite their reliance only on nationwide database searches or other incomplete screening methods. These organizations might be unaware of the limitations of these searches and may not realize that information is missing or inaccurate. Nationwide or multi-state database searches are not meant to stand alone, and for this reason, all hits must be validated at the primary source of information (county or state courthouse).
- Don’t Assume That Fingerprint Checks Are Reliable. Fingerprint checks may be required in certain situations; however, the notion that they are the most reliable way to conduct criminal record checks is a fallacy. Fingerprint checks query the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which is based on voluntary submission of records by each state. The records are often flawed, inaccurate and missing critical information. For a more reliable search, organizations should use a combination of county and state searches based on address history, nationwide databases and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW).
- Protect More Than Your People. Vulnerable populations often steal the spotlight when it comes to conversations regarding background checks, but they may not be the only vulnerability in your organization. Background checks do more than protect people—they protect your assets, your reputation and your brand. Anyone who handles finances, personally identifiable information (PII) and technology, or makes important decisions on behalf of your organization should be screened; however, only 15 percent of organizations screen back-office and administrative volunteers. Minor theft may not be of concern, but severe damage to your reputation could put your entire organization’s livelihood at risk.
- Question Hit Rates Less Than 3 Percent. A low hit rate might allow you to onboard every volunteer, but it is indicative of a low quality check. If your organization consistently is finding that less than 3 percent of volunteers have a criminal record, your background checks might not be doing their jobs. Revisit your screening practices to ensure that you’re searching the right places and digging deep enough into your volunteers’ criminal history. If your low hit rate is still puzzling, consult a knowledgeable and reputable screening provider for further guidance and recommendations.
Clearly, volunteer screening offers organizations tremendous value. Nonprofits can achieve more and spend less by safeguarding their volunteers and their constituents. If you value and understand the importance of your volunteer program, you will no doubt put a quality volunteer screening program in place.
Katie Zwetzig is executive director of Verified Volunteers, an organization that aims to help nonprofits and service organizations better fulfill their missions by reducing the time and costs associated with volunteer screening.
Katie is excited to lead the revolutionary change Verified Volunteers is bringing to the nonprofit and volunteer industry. She has been at the forefront of the screening industry for the last 14 years and founded her own background screening company, Tandem Select. She feels strongly that nonprofits and volunteerism are at the heart of strong communities.