Instant Volunteer Background Checks: The Bad and the Ugly
Posted Thursday, November 13th, 2014 by Verified Volunteers Staff
We live in an impatient world. We want everything quickly. Think about it – we’ve made it so that we don’t even have to get out of our cars to eat a meal or to handle our banking. On top of these services, a wealth of information is constantly at our fingertips. I’d bet at this very moment your smartphone, tablet or laptop is within an arm’s reach! While this continuous influx of instant data can be wonderful, it can also be dangerous. Thanks to our impatience, we often neglect to critically evaluate information and identify when something is “too good to be true.” This impacts both our personal lives and our professional lives.
Consider your own situation. As a volunteer manager or someone who runs volunteer programs, you probably handle volunteer screening. And, if that’s true, then you have likely heard of or experienced “instant” volunteer background checks, which draw upon information from stale nationwide databases. These “nationwide” or “super searches” appear to be great screening solutions, but in reality turn out reports that are outdated, incomplete, and even inaccurate. Part of the reason for this is that the data – because it’s turned around instantly – is never validated at the source. It cannot be trusted.
Who is using instant volunteer background checks – and why?
Many volunteer programs, schools, and even some employers are falling prey to instant background check companies that deliver far from comprehensive reports. Tens of thousands of nonprofits have been sold this type of check since 9/11. Limited budgets, lack of transparency, and the referral nature of the nonprofit community have led to their widespread use. It’s becoming evident to these organizations, though, that the reports being returned to them are highly unreliable. In fact, in recent lawsuit news, a major vendor serving thousands of nonprofits for their volunteer screening needs was forced to abandon instant database checks and to start validating information and running searches at the local level.
For nonprofit groups that are trying to make screening volunteers an easy and cost-effective process, there is an obvious draw to instant checks, which can be offered for as little as $2. But don’t be fooled. The cost of the background check itself is not the only line item you must consider. We recently discussed how effectively screening your volunteers can actually save your organization money by decreasing your liability, protecting your reputation, and increasing volunteer retention. In order to achieve these cost savings, though, the volunteer background check must be thorough and accurate. Simply said, a volunteer screening policy that utilizes only instant checks will not adequately protect your organization.
What exactly is missing from instant background checks?
That’s the problem – you can’t be sure what is missing from an instant background check. You may be shocked to hear that the stale nationwide databases that are utilized for instant checks do not include information for entire states and many counties. The check provided is often based off data that is 120 or 365 days old. Results are also often missing any number of felony charges, misdemeanors, or other information that would make a potential volunteer a risk to your organization. What’s more, since stale nationwide databases are run instantly, they are never validated at the county or state level. These databases match to personal information, so without this validation piece, results can inadvertently pull from the records of someone with a similar name and date of birth, meaning that the information you see might not even pertain to the individual in question!
What could happen if I continue using instant volunteer background checks?
Volunteer managers that use outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete instant background checks risk losing potentially great volunteers by incorrectly screening them out of the volunteer recruitment process, or – even worse – risk letting a potentially dangerous individual into the organization. The choice to use instant stale nationwide databases in order to save a few dollars can result in a poor volunteer screening program, a damaged reputation, and even legal action.
How do I find the right kind of volunteer background check for my organization?
Finding the right volunteer screening process for your organization is simple: ask the tough questions when evaluating potential screening partners:
• Why do my results come back so quickly?
• What jurisdictions does the database cover in my region, county and state?
• What sources are actually being used?
• Is this provider compliant with the FCRA?
If a process is too simple, too fast, or “too good to be true,” it probably is. Strictly speaking, stale nationwide database searches do little to ensure compliance and limit liability. Invest in a program from a reputable provider.
Want to learn more about instant nationwide database checks? What they are, if you’re getting one, and what you need to make sure is included in your volunteer background checks? Contact us!