volunteer back ground check requirements

As a leader of volunteers, risk management is a big part of your job. So, you want to make sure you get volunteer background check requirements right. Read on to correct three mistakes you might be making.

Why Conduct Background Checks on Volunteers?

According to the Verified Volunteers Screening Trends & Best Practices Report: 2018 survey, nonprofits have many reasons to background check their volunteers. It goes beyond simply keeping “risky” people out.

Motivations for Volunteer Background Checks:

  • Protect constituents and vulnerable populations (91%)
  • Provide a safe and secure environment (89%)
  • Protect the organization’s reputation (77%)
  • Improve compliance/required by law (48%)
  • Improve volunteer quality (41%)
  • Increase volunteer retention (20%)

Most interesting, is organizations see screening as a way to enhance the volunteer experience and thus retain a higher percentage of volunteers.

The Top 3 Volunteer Background Check Mistakes

Whether you currently are already conducting volunteer background checks, or you’re thinking about implementing this as a new requirement, be sure you aren’t making these common mistakes.

1) Not Complying with Federal Background Check Requirement Laws

When using consumer reports to make employment decisions, including hiring, companies must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA guidelines also apply to nonprofit organizations who engage volunteers.

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Nonprofits must:

  • Get consent to conduct background checks;
  • Be transparent with prospective volunteers about how the information will be collected and used, and;
  • Follow an “adverse reaction” process when a volunteer is denied as the result of a background check. 

The adverse reaction process includes two steps that all organizations must follow in order to protect volunteers from discrimination:

Pre-adverse Reaction Process

When the organization is thinking about a denial for a position, you must complete a “pre-adverse reaction” process.  By law, they must:

  • Advise the volunteer you are thinking about taking adverse action on about the information in the consumer report. This can be presented orally or in writing.
  • Provide the volunteer with the name of the consumer reporting agency that conducted the background screening.
  • Inform the volunteer they have the right to dispute any inaccurate or incomplete information by contacting the consumer reporting agency or the organization.
  • Provide the volunteer with a complete copy of their screening report — they also have the right to a free copy of the report within 60 days.
  • Give the volunteer a copy of the Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Some states and cities have additional background check requirements,  So, be sure you check with your human resources attorney.

Adverse Reaction Process

When proceeding with adverse action, and denying a volunteer, the organization must give written notification to the applicant that specifically states the action being taken.

Also, organizations must disclose to the applicant what the denial was based upon (e.g., criminal history) and that it was not was not made by the consumer reporting agency. The decision can be based in whole in or in part on the results of the consumer report.

2) Not Re-screening Volunteers

Although very few volunteers actually come up with a criminal background, it does happen. Also, volunteers may commit their first offense while volunteering for your organization. So, it makes sense to complete volunteer background check requirements periodically, based on their level of access and risk and your agency’s budget.

Verified Volunteers recommends re-screening volunteers in leadership roles and those working directly with vulnerable populations once a year.

3) Assuming Volunteers Hate Being Screened

I’ve volunteered myself and completed fingerprinting as part of my background check. I have also instituted new screening systems in organizations that had not done so before.

As a volunteer, I understood why it might be important to protect the children I wanted to serve from predators. In fact, I paid the minimal cost of the screening myself without feeling put out.

As a program administrator who was implementing a new volunteer background check requirements, I experienced resistance from some of my co-workers, but none from volunteers. Even those who had been with us for decades supported the need to protect the vulnerable seniors they assisted.

How to make implementing volunteer background check requirements successful?

1) Make the requirement transparent and communicate it in simple (not demanding or threatening) language
2) Clearly explain the relationship between the requirement and the mission
3) Make the screening process respectful and efficient

Have you implemented a new screening process in your organization? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!