Don’t Put Your Vulnerable Populations at Risk: Why You Need to Screen Your Volunteers
Posted Thursday, December 11th, 2014 by Verified Volunteers Staff
Not so long ago, asking a potential employee to undergo a background check was unheard of. Over the last two decades, organizations realized that an investment in pre-employment screening pays off with several benefits including better hires, stronger retention and lower rates of corporate theft and loss. Nowadays, running a background check on an applicant is considered the norm.
Likewise, in the nonprofit world, the practice of volunteer screening is catching on, albeit a bit more slowly than in the corporate realm. At present, the majority of large, reputable organizations are investing in volunteer screening processes that ensure the safety of volunteers, staff, and the larger community. Still, there are those organizations that have not adjusted their dated volunteer onboarding practices to incorporate more than a verbal assurance such as “He’s a friend of my sister’s neighbor. Don’t worry, he’s a good guy” Or “She’s never left alone with children.”
It would be nice to believe that we can trust each and every volunteer, but the sad reality is that we can’t – and we can’t afford to gamble with our stakeholders, particularly if we serve vulnerable populations. It is imperative that nonprofit organizations thoroughly screen volunteers so that we do not allow untrustworthy individuals through the door.
Parents of the students at La Vega Independent School in Bellmead, Texas would agree that a stronger focus needs to be placed on screening volunteers. That’s because news recently broke that a registered sex offender slipped through the cracks and had been volunteering with the high school’s cheerleaders. An investigation is currently underway, but this story reinforces the three key foundations of volunteer background screening:
- Consistency – all volunteers serving in a given role must undergo the same type of check, regardless of their relationship to someone in the organization. Just because a potential volunteer is an acquaintance of a staff member or has served with the organizations for a long time does not mean they can be trusted. Effort must be made to ensure that a consistent screening process is upheld by all those responsible for recruiting and onboarding.
- Thoroughness – the checks must be comprehensive. In a previous post, we talked about the dangers of instant background checks and what questions organizations can ask of their current or potential screening provider to ensure the background check report they receive contains all the information they need to make an informed onboarding decision.
- Ongoing Diligence – Screening doesn’t stop once a volunteer begins working with your organization. A rescreening process should be put in place so that background checks are run on a regular basis – for new and continuing staff and volunteers. Renewals help to ensure no individual on your team has engaged in any recent behavior that might put your organization’s reputation or assets at risk.
It’s not uncommon to hear that the cost of volunteer screening is prohibitive to nonprofit organizations. However, it’s been widely proven that the possible risks posed by an unsuitable volunteer far outweigh those costs. Those risks include a damaged reputation, loss of supporters, and the potential costs associated with legal action. And, worse, you can wind up with a member of your community getting harmed.
The reality is that all organizations – especially those working with vulnerable populations – need to background screen their volunteers. Utilizing a reputable platform that provides a comprehensive check via a simple process helps to protect vulnerable populations from potential abusers. Verified Volunteers has partnered with thousands of organizations working with vulnerable populations to help streamline their volunteer screening processes.
Do you serve vulnerable populations?
For more information about developing screening policies and practices, check out our two-part webinar series, Working with Vulnerable Populations. In part one, we cover how you can identify potential threats to the vulnerable populations you serve and develop a strategy to protect those populations from potential danger. In part two, we cover specific tactics and steps to create effective programs and policies, including volunteer screening programs that protect vulnerable populations. Rick Braschler, Director of Risk Management at Kanakuk Kamps, presents both of these webinars and touches on his popular Kanakuk Child Protection Plan throughout the sessions.