More Volunteers Are Volunteering From Home. Should They Still Be Screened?
Posted Thursday, February 9th, 2017 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
Studies show volunteer numbers continue to grow. Lending to this growth is a new trend that may surprise you – more and more volunteers are volunteering from the convenience of their homes.
While young volunteers are more active than ever, they have to balance school, work and the desire to better the communities in which they live. Technology now makes giving time and energy to a favorite organization from the comfort of home possible.
There are many ways to get involved from home, including doling out words of wisdom on advice call lines, conducting intervention via text message, and donating data.
Advice lines offer flexible shifts for volunteers and giving advice is easily done from a remote location. While processes do vary, many nonprofits provide training (most of which can also be done remotely) for volunteers and then set them up to work from home. Many advice lines focus on crisis/at-risk groups which are connected to volunteer networks across America. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is one of the largest advice lines in the country and offers training to those interested in helping others over the phone.
Yep, you can help others through a simple text. In fact, millions of text messages are exchanged every day for a worthy cause. One of the most prolific nonprofits utilizing quick and easy SMS-messaging-based volunteering is the Crisis Text Line. Volunteers assist those in the midst of a crisis to regain composure and to discuss their feelings via text. Like advice lines, most training can be completed remotely and volunteers can help from home with a laptop and phone.
With more than 68% of Americans owning smartphones, we are using our cellphones for more than just conference calls and quick text messages. Many people use a myriad of apps on their smartphones, tracking all kinds of information, including that related to fitness and health. But such data is not only helpful for smartphone owners trying to get or stay fit: health data is also vital for medical research. 100 for Parkinson’s is an app that collects anonymous health data from users whether they have the condition or not. This data is used for research to help millions around the world.
Home-Based Volunteers and Volunteer Screening
While each of these are fantastic methods for helping organizations reach the communities and at-risk groups they serve, volunteering-from-home trends also are a good reminder to highlight the need for stringent volunteer background screening for all volunteers.
Sterling Volunteers is, of course, in the business of screening volunteers in order to keep organizations, their people, assets, and reputations safe from harm. When it comes to home-based volunteering and screening, some volunteer managers, executive directors or board members might think they are off the hook. Why spend money on screening if these volunteers do not come into contact with the organization’s constituents?
We asked Katie Zwetzig, Executive Director of Sterling Volunteers, what her initial thoughts are on best practices for screening home-based volunteers. Said Katie: “This is a timely article, as I just ran into a real-life example of this last week. My daughter is a student at the University of Kansas. In need of a tutor, I looked online for options in her area. Online tutors abounded. As I explored the types of background checks they had undergone – if any – it made me nervous. Most online tutors are only subject to a nationwide criminal background check. Working in this industry, I know those nationwide databases have limited information. They are stale, incomplete and out-of-date – and could potentially be missing scary criminal history. Just because a volunteer is working remotely does not mean they cannot do harm. As a mother – and as someone with 15 years’ experience in the screening field, I would say that any online volunteer with any type of access to constituents should undergo a thorough background check – the primary source of information should always be checked, as should address history and alias names. It’s the only way to be confident that your organization will stay safe.”*
Moral of the story: whether your volunteers serve on your premises, at an offsite location, or remotely, be careful to think about the risk they could pose or the harm they could do. Do your part to ensure the communities you serve are safeguarded as much as possible. That means a comprehensive check through a qualified screening provider. As long as you have dotted your I’s and crossed your t’s, you can rest assured you are working with volunteers who have the best interest of your constituents in mind – and who are helping you work toward your organization’s mission.
*Always seek your legal counsel’s advice before finalizing your screening policy.