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New Report: 85% of Organizations May be Using Low Quality Checks in Their Volunteer Screening Program

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Date: December 7, 2015

Sterling Volunteers Releases First Comprehensive Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report

Fort Collins, CO (November 30, 2015)Sterling Volunteers’ 2016 Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report reveals that a majority of volunteer organizations discover a misdemeanor or felony conviction for less than two percent of their volunteers during the background screening process. This low “hit rate” suggests that these organizations are receiving a poor quality check, likely searching nationwide criminal history databases without searching the primary source of information – the county or state courthouse; Sterling Volunteers finds substantially more hits using their comprehensive and proprietary locator and search tools, which always search the primary source of data. They are dedicated to changing the paradigm in the volunteer screening industry, where many organizations are using low quality searches that have been misrepresented by screening vendors – and that ultimately put their organizations at risk.

For its first-ever comprehensive report on volunteer screening trends and best practices, Sterling Volunteers surveyed 352 respondents including executives who run volunteer programs within all nonprofit sectors, such as religious, social or human services, youth development, education, healthcare and sports organizations. The full report provides insights and key data related to volunteer program management and addresses the types of volunteer screening challenges outlined above.

“This report is a major contribution to the vital process of demystifying screening in the nonprofit sector. It provides unique and fresh insights for all of us to compare ourselves to peers, and sets the table for a dialogue on best practices,” said Tracy Hoover, CEO of Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.

“We created this report to meet the demand for current, accurate data on nonprofit background screening practices and to offer a benchmark for the volunteer screening industry,” said Executive Director, Katie Zwetzig. “Our inaugural report demonstrates the need for consistent screening practices and an overall lack of rescreening in the volunteer industry while at the same time proving the majority of organizations remain committed to the safety of their constituents.”

Organizations surveyed placed safety as their top reason for screening volunteers. The majority of organizations put the most value on criminal record checks and sex offender searches but received alarmingly low “hit rates” for volunteers, which suggests they did not receive quality screens. The report discovered organizations conduct at least four types of criminal record checks on average for volunteers. With the exception of those working with vulnerable populations, just over half of organizations rescreen their volunteers, meaning 40 percent of organizations do not rescreen volunteers. Additionally, those surveyed cited volunteer screening fees as the most costly aspect of volunteer programs.

Key Findings from the Survey Include:

Low Conviction Rate for Criminal Record Checks
Out of the 352 organizations surveyed, 85 percent discover a misdemeanor or felony conviction for only 2 percent or fewer of their volunteers during the background screening process. Religious organizations reported the lowest percentage of screens flagged for convictions with more than half of respondents from faith-based organizations revealing that none of their volunteers’ background checks revealed criminal convictions.

Safety Is the #1 Concern for Volunteer Screening
The primary reason organizations conduct background checks on volunteers is to provide a safe environment for staff, volunteers, constituents and the community. While reputation, compliance and quality of volunteers were also important reasons for screening, safety was by far the highest priority. Most organizations that conduct criminal record checks use sex offender searches (72.4 percent), current county and state searches (59.1 percent) and nationwide or multistate database searches (51.4 percent).

Expected Growth on the Horizon for Many Organizations
Increasing volunteerism and expanding program services is high on the agenda for many organizations. At least one-third of organizations surveyed expect to increase their number of volunteers in 2016. Forty-seven percent of organizations expect their volunteer pool to grow within one year, and of the organizations that project volunteer growth, nearly one-third expect a growth rate of five percent or more next year.

Volunteer Program Forecast
Fifty-seven percent of organizations currently conduct background checks on all volunteers. The top four changes organizations plan to make in 2016 include: screening more volunteers, improving integration between screening and other tools, performing rescreening and adding new searches. Few organizations intend to reduce their screening efforts, with the majority ranking volunteer background checks high in importance for their organizations.

About Sterling Volunteers 2016 Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report
This report offers essential insights on the practices, challenges and concerns of organizations that rely on dedicated volunteers. Researched and produced by Sterling Volunteers, the first-of-its-kind platform for volunteer background screening, the report includes responses from 352 professionals surveyed in May 2015.

About Sterling Volunteers
Sterling Volunteers is the only background check platform tailored to the specific needs of the service sector and the first online community to mobilize repeat, vetted volunteers. Our Volunteer Fast-Pass propels nonprofit organizations by empowering volunteers to take greater ownership of costly, time-consuming screening processes. Sterling Volunteers is backed by SterlingBackcheck, one of the world’s largest background screening companies, and partnered with Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. Visit our website at or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus to learn more.

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