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Organizations Using More Unpaid Workers Than Ever, Sterling Volunteers Study Finds

Busy Holiday Season Requires Increased Vetting Of Volunteers Serving Vulnerable Populations

Volunteer numbers are rising as organizations that use unpaid workers are drawing on more of them than ever, according to new research from Sterling Volunteers’ Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report: 2017. The number of one-time or casual volunteers is also growing. More volunteers are passing through organizations yet fewer are committing for long periods of time. This is almost certainly true at the holidays when organizations typically experience increased volunteerism for tasks ranging from food preparation to toy distribution.

“Unfortunately, you may not know your volunteers as well as you used to,” says Katie Zwetzig, executive director of Sterling Volunteers. “Eighty-eight percent of organizations we surveyed serve vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly or the disabled. These volunteers should be appropriately vetted and trained. You don’t want harm to come to those you’re trying to help, and you don’t want your organization harmed by reputation or financially by an incident that results in a lawsuit.”

Sixty-one percent (61%) of organizations say they expect to conduct more background checks in 2017. Legal liability is an organization’s biggest risk, according to Zwetzig. An organization is responsible for the actions of its volunteers. If an injury or damage occurs, even if caused by a one-time volunteer, an organization can still be considered negligent in the eyes of the law. Liability can extend to automobile liability, negligence resulting in damage or harm, and dishonesty by fraud, embezzlement or theft. Organizations are more likely to be found liable if prior offenses were not found in a background check.

Most organizations surveyed, which include religious, educational and healthcare institutions, expect their pools of unpaid workers to grow even more in the next 12 months. Funding and staffing were cited most often as the top challenges volunteer managers face looking ahead to 2017. Specific challenges cited include:

  • Recruiting volunteers in a saturated market
  • A supply of able-bodied, work week volunteers
  • An aging volunteer population
  • Recruiting and retaining new long-term and frequent volunteers for high-skill projects
  • Finding volunteers older than 21 and younger than 65
  • Having enough volunteers to keep up with program growth

Results of Sterling Volunteers’ online survey, conducted in May 2016, are based on the responses of U.S. professionals working for nonprofit organizations that conduct background checks on their volunteers. A total of 785 respondents were surveyed.

Sterling Volunteers helps nonprofit organizations gain confidence in their volunteers by delivering thorough, compliant background checks. By enabling volunteers to order, manage and share their background checks via a secure online platform, Sterling Volunteers creates a community of vetted volunteers. Extensive expertise in screening and compliance best practices helps clients recruit the best volunteers to maintain a safe environment and positive reputation. Sterling Volunteers is backed by Sterling, one of the world’s largest background screening Go Back