News & Updates

Sterling Volunteers 2018 Study Reveals Significant Gaps in Unpaid Worker Screening Programs

Nearly 50% of All Volunteers Working with Vulnerable Populations Go Unscreened

(New York, NY, February 14, 2018) – While each nonprofit organization has different core objectives, most have similar reasons for screening their unpaid workers, according to the third annual Sterling Volunteers’ Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report: 2018. The 967 survey respondents cited protecting constituents and vulnerable populations, providing a safe and secure environment, and protecting the organization’s reputation as their primary screening goals. While findings demonstrate background check quality is becoming increasingly important for non-profits, it also reveals that the level of risk mitigation organizations desire is still not being met by current screening programs.

“It has been fascinating to look at the shifts in background screening trends for volunteer organizations over the past three years,” said Katie Zwetzig, Executive Director at Sterling Volunteers. “We found that there are a growing number of organizations that are moving towards rescreening their volunteers on a more frequent basis. It’s also eye-opening to note that many organizations are not following regulations when it comes to Adverse Action and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), leaving them exposed to possible risk.”

The Case for Rescreening

The fact that a volunteer clears a background check once does not guarantee he/she will keep a clean record permanently. Because of this, organizations have significantly increased the rate at which they conduct annual rescreens for their volunteers. Renewal screening among short-term volunteer positions has also doubled since 2017, up from 10.34% to 20% this year.

Missteps in the Adverse Action Process

Under the FCRA, organizations have a legal duty to conduct Adverse Action for individuals who might be denied volunteer positions because of negative information found on their background screen. This two-step process includes the volunteer organization sending both pre-adverse and adverse action notifications to the candidate, leaving a reasonable amount of time in between so the volunteer can potentially respond to or dispute the findings found on their report. According to the survey, 28% of organizations don’t send either the pre-adverse or adverse action notices to disqualified candidates, which could expose the organization to potential risk.

When Checks Return Criminal Results

Interestingly, the report identifies a disconnect when it comes to the types of offenses that would cause organizations to disqualify a candidate and the types of screenings they are conducting. More than three-quarters (77.84%) of organizations polled serve a vulnerable population, such as children, the elderly or the disabled. While 94% of respondents indicated that a sexual assault conviction would be a deal-breaker for onboarding a volunteer applicant, more than one-third were not utilizing a sex offender search as part of their screening practices. In addition, only 27% were conducting neglect and abuse searches.

Challenges in Volunteer Screening

Most volunteer organizations cite barriers to maintaining an optimal screening program, including:

  • Lack of proper guidance to determine which best-practice searches to conduct
  • Difficulty keeping consistency across all organizational staff members who screen
  • Bureaucracy, time, administration, and cost

While bureaucracy and time are bigger challenges than money, a growing trend for organizations is to ask their volunteers to assist in defraying the costs of their own background checks, with about 11% of companies giving volunteer candidates an opportunity to contribute to the cost.

A free version of Sterling Volunteers’ ‘Volunteer Screening Trends and Best Practices Report’ is now available for download.

About Sterling Volunteers

Sterling Volunteers helps nonprofit organizations gain confidence in the volunteers working with those they serve by delivering thorough, reliable background checks. By enabling volunteers to order, manage and share their background checks via a secure online platform, a community of vetted volunteers is created, which helps nonprofit organizations save time and money. Extensive expertise in screening and compliance best practices helps clients recruit the best volunteers in order to maintain a safe environment and positive reputation. Sterling Volunteers is backed by Sterling, one of the world’s largest background screening companies, and partnered with Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.

Sterling Volunteers is a service mark of Sterling Infosystems, Inc.

Media Contacts

Jonathan Fleming

Go Back