The Top Three Volunteer Screening Trends for 2018

Posted Thursday, February 8th, 2018 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

The Top Three Volunteer Screening Trends for 2018

Sterling Volunteers recently surveyed clients and non-clients alike — all of whom run volunteer programs – to better understand their background screening needs and processes. The 967 survey responders represented a wide range of organizations including social and human services, education, healthcare, religious and youth development groups. Responders were mostly volunteer managers and program managers and directors whose organizations relied heavily on unpaid volunteers.

Katie Zwetzig, Executive Director of Sterling Volunteers and Toby Chalberg, Chief Digital Officer at Points of Light, weighed in with insights from the third annual research study on the state of volunteerism and volunteer screening in America during the most recent Sterling Volunteers webinar, “Volunteer Screening 2018: Research Results & Insights.”

Why are Organizations Screening?

Organizations are screening candidates for many reasons, but the majority of volunteer managers (91%) screen to protect constituents and vulnerable populations. The other top reasons to screen were:

  • 89% to provide a safe and secure environment
  • 77% to protect the organization’s reputation
  • 48% to improve compliance/required by law
  • 41% to improve volunteer quality
  • 20% to increase volunteer retention

How are Organizations Screening?

Our survey found that 53.61% of organizations use an external third-party service to conduct background checks while 26.31% go directly to a government source and 15.98% perform the checks in-house. Almost half of the organizations screen all volunteers regardless of their position or how often they volunteer, but volunteers who work with vulnerable populations are most likely to be screened. Approximately 88% of organizations are not screening short-term, one-time and infrequent volunteers.

The overwhelming majority of the survey respondents (92%) said they conduct criminal record checks. The next most common background check used by volunteer organizations is the sex offender search at 73%. Toby found the large gap between the top two screens concerning and surmised that people might not know that the sex offender check is already part of their background screening package. Moving down the list in terms of commonality, 41% use identity verifications, 16% conduct drug and health checks and 12% conduct social media checks.

Top Three Trends Report Takeaways

There are many interesting volunteer screening trends and findings that we uncovered with the survey. We wanted to highlight just a few, but keep an eye out for future blog posts which will delve deeper into the survey findings. The top three takeaways are:

  1. Social Media Checks

    More and more nonprofit organizations have been asking about social media checks. Social media screening can be very valuable to volunteer managers during the onboarding process, as it humanizes the candidate. On the other hand, social media profiles can reveal both positive and negative information in what is a very public domain. It is critical that organizations understand the legal ramifications of this type of background screening. The volunteer must be told that a social media or other online source is being used to research information that could affect their application. Consent for doing these types of checks must be received. Social media searches should be carried out as late in the recruitment process as reasonably practical to avoid any biases.

    It is highly recommended that organizations use a third-party screening company for social media searches. A third party social screening solution will only focus on information that relates to the volunteer role. This is important as “protected characteristics” such as age, disability, gender identity, marital status, race, religious beliefs, sex or sexual orientation, which can be easily seen on social media profiles, cannot be considered by organizations. Organizations need to have a clear policy in place for social media searches.

  2. Rescreening Volunteers

    Continual screening of volunteers can seem daunting, especially if you have a large team of volunteers. However, rescreening is very important especially since organizations might only see a volunteer once a year.  The survey showed that rescreening volunteers has increased over last year and doubled among short-term volunteer positions.

    • 21% rescreen all volunteers
    • 25% rescreen those working with vulnerable populations
    • 19% rescreen those in long-term volunteer positions
    • 20% rescreen those in short-term volunteer positions
    • 17% rescreen those in administrative or back office positions

    How often should you rescreen? Every year, if possible. However, this will depend on your organization’s budget and the volunteer position of the person you are rescreening. Volunteers in leadership roles and volunteers working with vulnerable populations should be rescreened annually. What checks organizations use when they rescreen volunteers will vary. Some will run the full background check search again, while others will only run criminal record or sex offender checks. It is important to tell the volunteer if they are being rescreened.

  3. Compliance is Key

    The survey found that half of organizations disqualify only a small minority of volunteers whose checks return criminal results. Organizations disqualify volunteers based on sexual assault records (94%), felony convictions for violent crimes (94%), misdemeanor convictions for violent crimes (72%), felony convictions for nonviolent crimes (55%), driving convictions (30%), and misdemeanor convictions for nonviolent crimes (17%).

    Compliance is a critical factor when conducting background screening. When an organization uses a volunteer candidate’s background information to deny them the position, they must comply with federal and state laws that protect the applicant from discrimination. When using consumer reports to make employment decisions, including hiring, retention, promotion or reassignment, companies must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA guidelines also apply to nonprofit organizations who have a volunteer staff. Volunteer managers must get consent to conduct screening, be transparent with the volunteer candidates and follow an adverse action process.

    Based on the survey results, only 15% of organizations send both pre-adverse and adverse action notices to disqualified candidates, which means they may not be compliant with the FCRA. An adverse action process must include:

    • Steps for sending and receiving both pre-adverse and adverse action notifications
    • Sending a copy of the candidate’s background report
    • Adequate time for the candidate to respond and dispute findings

Stay Tuned for More Volunteer Screening Insights

Did you miss the “Volunteer Screening 2018: Research Results & Insights” webinar? You can download it on-demand at any time. Stay tuned to our blog for more insights into our “Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2018” when the report is released in just a few weeks.

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