Common Misconceptions of Volunteer Background Screening: An Interview

Posted Thursday, October 12th, 2017 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

It’s easy to make assumptions when it comes to volunteer background screening, especially if you are someone who has worked in the nonprofit world for some time. If you deal with volunteers day in and day out, recruiting, onboarding and screening volunteer candidates, you may think you know all there is to know. But even folks here at Sterling Volunteers don’t know everything about volunteer screening, especially when they just join the organization.

In order to shed some light on some very common volunteer background screening misconceptions, we thought we would interview a new employee at Sterling Volunteers – who has no prior experience in the volunteer background screening sector – and ask about some of the surprising misperceptions they had before joining our team.

  • What was your exposure to screening before joining Sterling Volunteers?
    • Before joining Sterling Volunteers, my exposure to background screening was really only having to be screened for employment purposes. I had worked in the retail financial industry in the past and had been fingerprinted before employment, as well as drug screened for numerous other jobs. I knew that I had to complete an application with my personal information, usually for 7 years at a time, and then I would wait to hear from the employer on whether I ‘passed’ or not, which would sometimes take over a week.
What have you learned since coming onboard that has surprised you?
    • A majority of background screens performed by Sterling Volunteers are returned within 24 hours or less! I was always under the impression that background screens took forever to be completed; however, this is not always the case. Depending on how many aliases someone may have, or how many different places they have lived, a background check can actually be the fastest part of the entire application process.
    • I was also surprised by the high number of common names. Some names I would never think were that common can have multiple matches when running a background screen. This is why it is important to not only match on name, or even name and date of birth alone. Some common names will also match on birthdays!
Being more familiar with screening now, what do you think are some of the major misconceptions about screening that are important to clear up?
    • Fingerprinting is not as complete and holistic as I previously thought. I believe many people think that when they are fingerprinted, everything they have done before is tied to them in some way. In reality, fingerprinting only pulls from the FBI database, which can be outdated and incomplete.
    • I always had this misconception that background screening was very expensive, no matter who you were. This can be true if someone has several alias names and has lived in several places. But it can also be very inexpensive if they haven’t moved much and don’t have any alias names.
    • Another misconception was the idea of this ‘super database’, where you simply input someone’s information and out pops everything you would ever want to know in regards to their criminal history. In reality, each database has its holes and lack of information. A thorough background screen should check multiple databases in order to be as complete as possible; there is no ‘super database’ that will spit out everything in a nice neat package for you!

Volunteer managers, you too were once new to the world of volunteer candidate screening – we would like to hear what surprised you most when learned more about it. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to share!

If you have questions on volunteer background screening and want to talk to an advisor, email us at We’d love to hear from you!