Nonprofit Volunteer Background Checks

Nonprofits sometimes hesitate to apply background checks to volunteers. Often, they worry that if they treat their volunteers with suspicion, they may lose them.

In most cases, however, the opposite is true. Volunteers want to be able to trust that your organization is protecting them as well as the populations you serve by ensuring that employees and volunteers alike are adequately screened.

Obviously, protecting vulnerable populations like children or the elderly is paramount. But background checks also help protect your money, your physical property, and your reputation.

The injury done by a volunteer who behaves in an unsafe or criminal manner can go far beyond the immediate damage they cause. Starting with a hit to your reputation, an incident can snowball into bad press, decreased funding from donors, fewer volunteers who are willing to give you their time, and even penalties and lawsuits. When you take the time to adequately screen your volunteers, you protect your organization as a whole, as well as the populations you serve.

The following is a brief guide on why background checks are important for service organizations, charities, and nonprofits, and how to choose the right background company for your unique needs.

Benefits of screening volunteers

Although screening volunteers can sometimes seem like a drain on your time and pocketbook, the benefits can be exponential.

First and foremost, background checks help create a safer environment for everybody. Often, these are members of populations such as children, the elderly, the homeless, and others who are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Screening your volunteers provides an extra layer of protection for the people who need it most.

Background checks also make your employees and other volunteers feel safer. Knowing that the people they’re working side-by-side with have gone through the same vetting process that they have assures them that your organization values their safety and well-being. That, in turn, creates a sense of community and loyalty.

Background screenings also protect your organization’s assets. Some volunteers may have access to anything from your computer passwords to your checkbook to the keys to your property. Criminal background checks can let you know if a potential volunteer has a history of taking advantage of situations like this.

Screenings also protect your organization from liability. For example, if you failed to do an adequate background check of an employee who turned out to have a violent criminal past and who subsequently hurt a client, fellow volunteer, or employee, your company could be considered negligent and thus liable for damages—not to mention that the hit to your reputation could be catastrophic.

Above all, the right background screenings protect your mission. They keep your people, assets, and reputation safe so that you can focus on making the world a better place.

More than just a criminal background check

Checking your volunteer’s criminal background is an important step. But it’s not the only step. In fact, doing a background check on a volunteer isn’t really any different than running a background check on a prospective employee. Depending on the nature of the job duties, any of several types of screenings might be wise.

For example, if your volunteer will have access to a vehicle that belongs to your organization or will be driving as part of their duties, a motor vehicle records search lets you know if they have a history of unsafe driving.

If they’ll be responsible for people’s safety, drug screening might be a smart move.

If your volunteers will be serving on your board, working in a leadership position, or representing your organization in a public-facing role, employment and education verifications give you peace of mind that their background is in keeping with your values and vision.

Here are the screenings that are most often used when checking a volunteer’s background:

  • Sex offender registry search
  • Criminal background check
  • Motor vehicle report
  • Drug screening

Volunteers are more than just warm bodies carrying out a set of duties. They’re part of your community, and regardless of the type of work they do for you, they represent your organization. Engaging someone whose ethics, character, and background aren’t aligned with your organization’s mission can ultimately do you more harm than good.

A cookie-cutter approach isn’t enough. Every nonprofit, charity, and service organization is different and has its own needs and requirements. You need a set of background checks specific to your needs so you can make the best decisions.

How to find the right screening company for your nonprofit

Not all nonprofits are the same—and neither are all background screening companies. Finding the right one saves you time and money. Just as importantly, it protects your reputation with your volunteers, your clients, and the public at large.

Here are some of the key characteristics to look for in a screening company:

Treats volunteers with respect

Your organization probably relies in no small part on people who are willing to share their time and energy for free. That’s why a screening company that treats them with respect is vital. The company you choose should communicate effectively, make the process as convenient as possible, and assure your volunteers that any personal information that they share is secure.

Understands federal and state compliance requirements

The same compliance regulations that govern hiring practices also apply to volunteers. Failing to comply with them may mean penalties or even lawsuits for your organization. It’s important to find a background check company that understands the complicated regulatory landscape and can guide you through it.

Customizes your screenings

Different organizations will have different needs, and there’s no point in spending time and money on unnecessary checks. Look for a background screening company that’s willing to work with you to figure out exactly what you need and then run those—and only those—screenings.

Works quickly

Background checks that take too long can cause bottlenecks in your onboarding process, slowing down your ability to provide services. Working with a screening company that has experience running background checks and communicates efficiently can greatly speed up the time it takes to put a volunteer in the field.

Final thoughts

The world needs the services you provide—and you need volunteers who can help. The sooner you find them, the sooner they can start making a difference. If you’d like to talk to one of our experts about how we can help, contact us today.

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