Why Screen Volunteers During COVID-19 Crisis?

Posted Monday, April 27th, 2020 by Kimberly Chochon, Vice President of Partnerships

The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is an unprecedented crisis that is impacting our nation, and the world, on a level unlike we have ever experienced before in the service sector. In other types of “disasters,” such as a hurricane, volunteers are screened and quickly deployed without hesitation. However, with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 disaster and its ominous health risks, it has been the opposite. Many organizations cannot deploy volunteers due to shelter-in-place orders. Some have stopped onboarding new volunteers. Others are utilizing staff to cover volunteer shifts, and some have drastically reduced the frequency of onsite human interaction. Despite these circumstances, there still exists a large number of organizations in dire need of onsite, remote, and first responder volunteers to help provide relief.

As a result, organizations have been challenged to re-evaluate volunteer engagement. It has now become a necessity to learn how to effectively train and utilize virtual volunteers, as well as learn how to keep the essential volunteers being deployed, to physically assist those in need, safe and healthy.

One of the biggest questions that organizations have is whether volunteers should be screened during this COVID-19 crisis. The short answer is, yes indeed. It is still important to screen all volunteers, regardless of whether the volunteer position is in person, online, or over the phone. The number one consideration for why screening remains just as critical during COVID-19 – it’s all about providing trust and safety.

Here are five key reasons why organizations should screen volunteers during the COVID-19 crisis:

  1. Keeping vulnerable populations safe
    Under normal circumstances, when a volunteer has face-to-face interactions with any vulnerable population, as a precautionary safety measure, they are screened before they can participate in the volunteer program. It is no different during COVID-19, and should be considered equally important, even for remote volunteers. Why? Because a virtual volunteer is still building that trusted connection directly with a vulnerable individual who is most likely dealing with an elevated level of anxiety, which can become even more magnified during times of uncertainty. Those volunteers with ulterior motives can take advantage of this new situation and misrepresent themselves.

    Not screening virtual volunteers could potentially set your organization up for unnecessary risk during what is already a heightened and stressful time for all, especially for those in need.

  2. Helping mitigate risk
    Properly vetting all volunteers helps to reduce liability and maintain safe environments. During a disaster, it is common for volunteers to show up in droves. These volunteers tend not to be affiliated with a specific organization and are episodic short-timers who have not yet established their loyalty. As a result, due diligence needs to be exercised. Putting a background screening program in place can act as an initial deterrent for those with bad intentions. If you forego running volunteer background checks, you are not only risking the security of everyone who participates in your volunteer program, but also your organization’s assets, reputation, and overall safety.

  3. Screening gives peace of mind
    During the COVID-19 crisis, volunteers are serving communities in a heightened state of stress.  Volunteers are comforted knowing that the person standing next to them, even if 6 feet away, has been vetted for criminal activity. In turn, organizations want to be confident that volunteers they onboard will be the best representation of their mission and serve their community in good standing.

    Running quality, compliant volunteer background checks can help alleviate stress and give volunteers and organizations peace of mind. This is critical so they can remain focused on executing the important tasks at hand to help fulfill their mission.

    Whether delivering meals, handing out food at a local food bank, providing transportation for a special needs person, or volunteering for any other essential service during this pandemic… deploying volunteers who have undergone a thorough background check helps create a trusted environment for volunteers, and staff, to work in.

  4. Preventing identity fraud
    Identity fraud is becoming more prevalent, and during COVID-19 the need to screen and verify remote volunteers is top of mind for many organizations. While it is easy to believe that all volunteers have the best of intentions, how can we really be sure?  There is an increased concern on how to determine whether a remote volunteer is who they say they are. Adding identity verification at the start of the screening process, can help verify the volunteer’s identity, and is another way to add a layer of security during this pandemic, and keep trust and safety a top priority.

  5. Creating safer community environments
    Organizations across all sectors need to make the determination on how they can support their community. The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unchartered landscape, and we are navigating this together, as it unfolds. Nonprofit and service organizations can do their part by fine-tuning volunteer operations and running quality volunteer background checks to help create safer environments.

It is important to continue moving forward in safeguarding vulnerable populations, along with volunteers, peers, and staff during the COVID-19 crisis. Consider these top reasons to screen volunteers so your organization can help with mobilizing a trusted network of pre-vetted essential volunteers into local communities and provide some much-needed support amid these uncertain times.

Let us know how we can help. Feel free to reach out any time at info@sterlingvolutneers.com. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. Sterling is not a law firm, and none of the information contained in this notice is intended as legal advice.