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Background Checking Volunteers

Volunteer Aid Charity Support Volunteering Concept

Volunteer organizations provide important services. Often, they benefit those who are less-fortunate members of society. Many service organizations place volunteers in direct contact with children, the elderly, the abused, the disabled, and the sick. In other volunteer positions, people work with money, sensitive data, or other assets.

Volunteer organizations may also be associated with or funded by other agencies with specific requirements of their own. For example, if an organization receives state funding, they may be subject to state regulations. Certain Federal regulations also require screening for certain positions. Today, many volunteer groups carefully background check their members.

Background checking volunteers is a good screening tool to protect both the organization and those they serve. Most volunteer groups are non-profit, with budgets from donations and fundraising. Every dollar and man-hour needs to really count.

Happy volunteer looking at donation box on a sunny day

How can volunteer organizations background check new members?

The first step is deciding what information is important to know. If a new member would be responsible for driving, for example, a driving record would be needed. If they were handling cash or working with sensitive data, a criminal record screening or a credit check might be required. An organization might choose to tailor their background checks to different positions in order to save time and money. Timing is important, too. Running faster background checks helps keep things on schedule.

There is no guarantee that any background screening will weed out every offender. There is an argument that screening creates a false sense of security. Most people who commit a crime against a child, for example, are first-time offenders who could easily have passed a background check. It is estimated that 30% of people pad their resume with falsehoods—volunteer positions included. However, background checking does serve as a deterrent to those with bad histories who might otherwise be tempted to use volunteer opportunities to re-offend. It also offers some legal protection to the organizations for doing their due diligence.

Depending on the specific volunteer job and the organization’s policy as to what information is necessary, a candidate will be screened differently. Generally, at a minimum, a volunteer background check will include a criminal history review.

Some nonprofit organizations have their own access to state and federal criminal history repositories, although most do not. There is also a great deal of information available online, however, much of what is available is incomplete, out of date, or inaccurate. Sex offender registries and criminal and civil court records are typically available through local government websites, but may not be kept up to date. Simple Google searches can often turn up information, but not always. Some information, such as arrest warrants, may need to be specifically searched for. Searches can also be done through a federal database maintained by the FBI called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Young male volunteer drawing with little children at table.

In-house Procedures

To be as thorough as possible, volunteer screening should only be conducted after the person’s true identity is verified with state-issued identification. Search terms should also include other information, such as date of birth and address, for accuracy. Checking social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn may also reveal information about a candidate’s habits, character, associations, and personal beliefs.

Some other possible data sources include:

  • References provided by the applicant
  • Deadbeat parent registries
  • Professional licensing boards
  • Immigration records
  • Drug and alcohol screens

Volunteer organizations should collect the minimum amount of information necessary to screen a candidate. Otherwise, the process can be a privacy violation. Asking a volunteer to submit to an open-ended background check by fellow volunteers is likely to turn people away.

It’s best for groups to be open and concise when explaining the reasons for background checks. Giving candidates the facts about what information will be gathered, the sources, and how the results will be used is important. If background checks will be repeated regularly, this should be made clear up front too. Protecting the confidential nature of this sensitive data should be a top priority. Letting the subjects know who will have access to their information and how it will be used will help them feel more comfortable. A consent form that explains the background check for new volunteers can help streamline the process.

Heart shape hand for volunteering, love, kindness and friendship concept

Pros and Cons

While conducting background checks in-house may save money, the savings are negligible compared to other costs. Conducting thorough background screenings takes time, resources, and training. It quickly eats up valuable hours that volunteer organizations don’t often have to spare. Storing sensitive data and ensuring confidentiality can be difficult, as well. These type of “do it yourself” background checks are often rushed, haphazard, and incomplete, putting organizations at risk.

To protect your volunteer organization when background checking applicants, consider the following:

  • How much information do you need?
  • Are there fees associated with getting this information?
  • How much is a volunteer man hour worth to your group?
  • Do you have the equipment and staff to do this in-house?
  • How will the information be protected?
  • How thorough can you be?
  • What are the risks if something is missed?
  • What requirements does your group have to meet for background checking?

The Answer is Clear

In most cases, groups prefer the accuracy, low cost, and quick turnaround of a professional background check.

CheckThem.com can help your organization conduct fast, thorough background checks on potential volunteers. Our services are discreet, affordable, and complete. CheckThem scours billions of public records for an accurate, up-to-date result your organization can trust. Don’t waste valuable time and money on incomplete results. Protect your reputation and clients by conducting background checks with CheckThem.