What You Need to Know about Setting up a Volunteer Screening Program
Posted Thursday, September 11th, 2014 by Verified Volunteers Staff
No organization wants to put its reputation or the people it serves at risk. But if your organization is screening volunteers for the first time or re-evaluating your current screening procedure, it can be difficult to know where to begin. How do you ensure you are getting the most accurate results? Are your procedures in compliance with applicable laws and regulations?
Key Considerations to Establish or Refresh a Volunteer Screening Program
To help your organization with its screening program, we’ve compiled some basic information and best practices, noted some laws you need to be aware of, and outlined the difference between various criminal background checks. Use the resources below to help ensure your screening program is current, accurate and compliant.
1. Is screening volunteers really necessary?
Approximately two out of three nonprofit organizations screen their volunteers, and that number is on the rise. Volunteer screening helps to protect not only the individuals you serve, but also the reputation of your organization.
If you’re on the fence about whether your organization really needs to screen volunteers, consider this: 10% of all background checks come back with a previously undisclosed criminal history. Most volunteers are trustworthy, but it only takes one bad incident to compromise the safety of those you serve and cause irreparable damage to your organization.
2. The FBI Database
Despite popular belief, the FBI criminal database is not a comprehensive list of all criminal history records. In fact, according to a report released by the National Employment Law Project, one out of every two FBI records is flawed, inaccurate or missing final disposition information.
Since there is no single, comprehensive government database containing all criminal history information, it is wise to use a screening provider that employs a variety of criminal locator tools to ensure the highest level of accuracy.
3. PII-Based vs. Fingerprint-Based Background Checks
PII-based (personally identifiable information) searches use name, date of birth, social security number, and other personal identifiers in order to run their screens. PII-based searches provide results that are just as accurate as fingerprint-based searches and are the most common method used by corporations and many other institutions in the United States.
4. Know the Laws
Just like pre-employment screening, volunteer screening is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which outlines certain rights and responsibilities for both parties. For instance, the FCRA requires organizations to provide written notification of the background check to the volunteer being screened, and the volunteer must provide written permission for this screening to take place.
The FCRA also lists steps organizations must take when taking adverse action (e.g., disqualifying from service) based on the results of a background check. Be sure to choose a screening provider that is FCRA compliant.
Many states have additional laws and regulations governing criminal background checks, so be sure you educate yourself on the laws for your state in order to maintain compliance.
5. Consistency is Key
Many organizations screen each and every volunteer. Some only screen volunteers that perform certain duties (i.e. work with vulnerable populations). Whichever way you choose to go, be sure to maintain a consistent policy. Even if a new volunteer is someone you personally know and trust, following the same procedure for all volunteers in the same position with your organization creates a sense of equality and builds trust between your organization and your volunteers.
6. Outline a Policy for Disqualifying Offenses
Have a plan in place for what offenses will disqualify a volunteer from serving with your organization. This policy may be subject to the discretion of your staff depending on factors such as the seriousness of the offense, the duration of time that has passed, and the age of the volunteer. Outline a procedure for how you will evaluate background checks for suitability to serve with your organization.
7. Consult an Expert.
As a volunteer manager or staff member of an organization, it’s not necessarily within your job description to know all the ins and outs of volunteer screening. As with commonly outsourced areas of expertise such as marketing and training, it’s often best to consult an expert to ensure no essential detail is overlooked. With background checks, it’s a matter of reducing your risk as an organization and protecting your reputation, team and volunteers.
We hope this introduction is helpful as you consider implementing or updating your volunteer screening program. Leave us a comment below if you have a specific question you’d like answered and we will include it in a future blog post.