Why Do Organizations Conduct Volunteer Screening?
Posted Thursday, March 8th, 2018 by Sterling Volunteers Staff
It’s a basic fact: background screening is complicated. An amazing amount of data is available that may or may not reflect the most up-to-date facts about volunteers. Deciding which type of background screening searches a volunteer manager needs to run to find well-intentioned volunteer candidates can often seem like a daunting task. Every organization has their own approach, preferences and requirements for conducting background checks. But ultimately, they are looking for the most comprehensive picture of their candidates. Using a third-party screening provider helps volunteer organizations dig through the data clutter.
Sterling Volunteers recently surveyed clients and non-clients alike —all of whom run volunteer programs – to better understand their background screening needs and processes in our recently released, “Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report 2018”. 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, program managers and directors whose organizations relied heavily on unpaid volunteers. In fact, 56% of organizations indicated that unpaid volunteers make up over three-fourths of their staff. More than one out of five responding organizations has more than 1,000 volunteers while 44% of organizations have budgets of $1 million and higher.
How are Organizations Screening their Volunteers?
Our survey found that 54% of organizations use an external third-party service to conduct background checks while 26% go directly to a government source and 16% 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.
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%. Following the top two checks, organizations conduct identity verifications (41%), drug and health checks (16%) and social media checks (12%).
Why are Organizations Conducting Volunteer Screening?
Each organization has different goals and objectives for screening candidates, but the top three reasons given for conducting background checks are safety-related while the rest of the reasons are related to efficiency and management. The other top reasons to screen were:
- 91% to protect constituents and vulnerable populations
- 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
The survey found that almost half of the organizations screen all volunteers regardless of their position or how often they volunteer. Those working with vulnerable populations (children, elderly and the disabled) are most likely to be screened, whereas short-term, one-time and infrequent volunteers are least likely to be screened—only 12% of organizations screen this group. In other words, 88% of organizations are not screening short-term, one-time and infrequent volunteers. This opens those organizations up to tremendous risk. Even a one-time volunteer could endanger your organization and its mission. A single act of embezzlement, sexual abuse, or violence causes harm to employees, volunteers, constituents and clients as well as to morale and reputation.
Nearly seven percent of organizations report that only five percent of their screenings return criminal convictions. While a clear majority of volunteer applicants will breeze through the screening process, most organizations who perform background screening will disqualify a few candidates as a result. While one in ten organizations automatically disqualify all volunteer applicants with criminal convictions, 49% disqualify only one-fourth or fewer applicants with such convictions. 60% of organizations perform individualized assessments on volunteer applicants with criminal records, allowing them to explain the circumstances of their convictions. 15% of organizations send both pre-adverse and adverse action notices to disqualified candidates.
The respondents also provided other reasons for performing volunteer screening that was specific to their industries or compliance issues:
- It’s a federal requirement for hospice agencies
- Grant compliance
- Screening may be an insurance or Medicare requirement
- Legal considerations, such as avoiding corporate and director liability also come into play
- To increase staff confidence in volunteers
More Volunteer Screening Insights
You can get a deeper dive into the top trends of the Sterling Volunteers Report by downloading the on-demand version of our recent webinar, “Volunteer Screening 2018: Research Results & Insights”. For more insights into best practices for the volunteer screening industry, download your copy of “Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2018”.