5 Things You Need to Know About Volunteer Background Checks in 2017, was a fantastic, informative webinar we held back in February. During the session, we discussed the leading trends developing in background screening for nonprofits. Volunteer managers that tuned in to the webinar had the chance to ask questions at the end. And they asked some fantastic ones about volunteer screening, volunteer management systems, and other vital topics for nonprofit organizations. Here are five questions from the webinar to help you better serve your volunteers and community, Volunteer Managers:
How often should background checks be repeated?
Continual screening of volunteers can seem daunting. You may have a lot of volunteers and the rescreening process seems long and exhausting, or perhaps you are simply shy about asking a volunteer to be rescreened. This is understandable, but bear in mind that we don’t see volunteers every day, and things happen between engagement periods. So don’t sweat it — many nonprofit organizations rescreen on an annual basis to keep their nonprofit organization and volunteers safe.
What are some of the major characteristics of a background check?
There are a few critical components to be aware of when screening volunteers for your organization. One of the most vital parts of a background screen is the sex offender search. There are two types of sex offender searches: database searches and the Department of Justice / National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) search. Databases may be faster but they are not updated regularly and they do not contain information from all jurisdictions. This can lead to issues if an applicant has recently relocated. We strongly recommend the Department of Justice database, a website that covers all 50 states.
Criminal background checks are a second major component of a background check. They are also not all equal when it comes to searching an applicant’s criminal history. Going to the source – the county or state courthouse where the trial took place – is critical. An impressive 80% of criminal information hits are found here. After the primary source is searched, nationwide database searches should also be run. Why not just do a nationwide database search alone? Well, nationwide databases search all 50 states but are far from comprehensive. Here’s why: Nationwide databases are a snapshot in time — the information is not updated in real-time and can be months old. They are also a mixed bag of records — many jurisdictions, and even entire states, don’t report records at all or only submit partial records. Because there is no standard for data within nationwide databases, they might contain twenty years’ worth of records for some jurisdictions and two years’ worth for others. In sum, it’s not uncommon for records within nationwide databases to be incomplete, inaccurate, or missing key information. Nationwide database searches should be run, but always in conjunction with searches at the state or country courthouse level – the primary source of criminal history information.
What is a federal check?
The court system in the USA is complicated. There are two different federal background checks. The federal court system houses information on criminal activity that breaks federal law or crosses state lines (i.e. drug trafficking). The other federal check is done with finger prints, but fingerprinting is not the gold standard of screening as many organizations tend to think. 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.
How can I better leverage the data available in my volunteer management system (VMS)?
A good VMS can definitely help volunteer managers gather data that can then be used to improve recruiting and retention of volunteers! A VMS stores invaluable information like specialized skills each volunteer possesses and keeps track of all the great projects completed in the community by your nonprofit. If you’re working on a budget, the most basic component of a VMS that volunteer managers should have is information input (i.e. contact information, skills, education). This will help you understand who’s volunteering, when, why, and what their interests and skills are. The more information you know about an individual, the better you can match them to volunteer roles in your organization.
What level of offense should disqualify an applicant from volunteering?
Take into consideration what the volunteer will be doing. A poor credit check on someone that will be tutoring middle-school children shouldn’t matter too much (unless they are teaching financial management skills perhaps!). With the position and duties in mind review the results of background check report and look at dates and types of crime. Did the crime involve, drugs, theft, harm against another person, etc.? Whatever conclusion you come to make sure it is universally implemented. If a DUI disqualifies an applicant from a position with your organization, this same standard should be enforced in all future instances as well.*
*Always seek your legal counsel’s advice before finalizing your screening policy.
For even more insight into the ever-changing landscape of volunteer background screening, don’t forget to listen to the webinar here. Have questions about the webinar or a suggestion for what to discuss in future webinars? Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and share your comments below.