Safety in volunteering is a common and valid concern. After all, you’re getting groups of people together to work on events for hours together, so you need to ensure everyone is there with good intentions. To this end, we often have customers ask us about background checks. Volunteers aren’t employees, so background checks can be harder and more intimidating to implement, but they can be done.

For our purposes, a background check is simply looking at prior convictions, arrests, or other legal troubles; essentially, anything that might become a problem at an event or lead you to mistrust a volunteer. 

Background checks are important for a wide variety of reasons, especially if your event is specifically related to things that may be a problem for certain convictions. Not only do background checks help you to trust your volunteers, but they also promote trust in each other because they know everyone there passed a bar of inspection.

The Necessity of Volunteer Background Checks

Background checks help you to protect vulnerable populations. If you’re a nonprofit specializing in helping victims of violent crime recover and heal or working with youth, then background checks can ensure you don’t let in volunteers who might create an unsafe environment or cause problems.

Background checks reduce legal and financial risks in organizing volunteers, in no small part due to the protection of the vulnerable populations that we just mentioned. If you have volunteers who are upstanding and not at risk of any negative behaviors, you drastically reduce the risk of events that can cause legal or financial harm to your nonprofit.

These benefits work together to create a volunteer experience that is safe and positive. You want volunteers to recommend your organization to other volunteers, and you want them to keep coming back to work your events; to this end, you want them to feel as safe and welcome as possible, and background checks can help

Building a Strong & Transparent Volunteer Screening Process

The worst thing you can do in background checks is have them be cursory and opaque. This can lead to volunteer rejections feeling flippant or irreverent, and make volunteers distrustful of your application process.

To avoid this, you want a volunteer screening process that is strong and effective, but also transparent and straightforward. Your background check criteria can be as stringent as you feel necessary, but your criteria must be clear to those being screened. 

When implementing background checks, there are a few steps you’ll want to follow:

  • You should first clarify which volunteer positions require the checks and what the requirements for passing said background checks are. Maybe the frontline volunteers don’t need checks, but organizers and volunteer managers do. Then, you can make it clear what the requirements are and why they are required as it relates to the position. This will also help you determine the type/depth of background check that you need.
  • Highlight the importance of privacy and confidentiality to your volunteers. They may feel intruded upon by an in-depth background check, so if you make it clear that their information is protected and secure, you can alleviate a lot of concerns. You can provide resources to volunteers as well to show exactly how the process goes (this can help a lot with volunteer recruitment, as well).
  • Finally, no matter what type of screening process you end up with, ensure that it is consistent across the board for all volunteers (including periodic rechecks, if necessary). If you want to seem fair and honest, be fair and honest, and that requires being consistent and equal.

Partnering with Reputable Background Check Providers

When implementing background check infrastructure, you’ll likely end up going through a background check provider, like Checkr. But you don’t want just any background check provider. You want one that is reputable, non-intrusive, and secure.

Research reliable background check agencies to find one that is high-quality and safe. If your provider ends up being invasive or insecure, that reflects negatively on your screening process as well.

You can review the scope and accuracy of background checks used by different providers to see which ones fit the bill for your nonprofit. You might find a provider who’s super secure and excellent across the board but has checks that are way too in-depth for your purposes. The opposite can be true, as well: you may find a provider whose checks are perfect, but their security is lacking.

Finally, consider costs and budgetary factors. You don’t want to spend most of your volunteering budget on a background check provider, then not have any money left for volunteer retainment strategies, like free food.

Obtaining Volunteer Consent and Compliance

Finally, you need to get volunteer consent and compliance with your background checks, no matter what system you decide to go with. But before you even go to your volunteers for consent, you need to ensure that your checks are compliant with federal and local regulations. Do your research and make sure you’re not overstepping and breaking the law!

Once you’ve cleared the legal bar, create the proper resources to get honest consent from volunteers. User-friendly consent forms and applications are the names of the game here. The last thing you want is for volunteers to feel confused or, even worse, tricked, by your consent documents.

Be open to volunteer feedback during this process, especially in the early stages. If people have concerns or questions, listen to and answer them with honesty and concern. These forms are made for the volunteers, so their feedback is crucial.

Internally, ensure your security and review process is airtight and defined. Designate authorized personnel within your organization for handling sensitive information. You can’t play fast and loose with volunteer information—and your consent forms should emphasize that you won’t. Also, develop a clear decision-making process for volunteer approval or rejection. You can’t be loosey-goosey with these decisions.

Concluding Thoughts

Background checks seem much more complicated than they are. Also, most of the work for a good volunteer screening process is front-loaded; once you have everything set up, it should largely run itself. Besides, the benefits far outweigh the costs of volunteer screening. 

Remember that you are doing this to make your nonprofit’s time and your volunteers’ lives safer, easier, and more trustworthy! You can avoid a whole slew of problems with a good screening process, so do the work to get it set up and running.

Creating a secure and welcoming nonprofit community is integral to your long- and short-term success and a developed screening process is one of the most important aspects of that security. And, if you want help managing your volunteers, be sure to check out our website and request a demo of our platform!

About the Author:
Geng Wang

As CEO of Civic Champs, I lead our team of passionate change leaders to create technology solutions to create a seamless and rewarding volunteering experience for both volunteers and service organizations.