Archive for the ‘Screening & Background Checks’ Category

How to do Reference Checks on Volunteers

Friday, July 12th, 2013

volunteer screeningThere is no question that a consistent practice of screening volunteers can make your organization, clients and the public safer. Gathering and checking references from volunteer applicants should be part of the screening process.

References can confirm or deny whether the applicant will be a good fit for your organization. It’s much better to find out before they start their volunteer duties!

Here are several tips for doing volunteer reference checks:

  • Ask applicants for references who are familiar with their work—employers, previous volunteer managers, etc.
  • Remember that applicants often think their references won’t be contacted. So don’t assume that they will only provide positive references.
  • Call or email each and every reference.
  • Ask each reference the same set of questions. Don’t neglect to ask any of your questions. You may hear a glowing report on the applicant, until you ask certain questions that trigger concern. Plus, you’ll get a much better picture of the applicant by asking the same things of each reference.
  • Don’t ask leading questions, or “yes” or “no” questions. For example, “Don’t you think Mary would be a great driver for our organization?” Give references the time and space to answer in their own words.
  • Clearly describe the position for which the person is applying and ask whether he or she can successfully handle the tasks.
  • In terms of vulnerability, clearly describe the people the applicant will be serving and ask whether the reference would be comfortable with it.

Consistency and clear communications are very important when doing volunteer reference checks. Make them a standard part of your volunteer screening process, and you’ll have higher quality volunteers who better fit with your organization!

Manage Risk the Smart Way

Friday, June 7th, 2013

volunteer screeningBringing dozens, even hundreds, of volunteers through your organization’s doors every year puts it at a risk of loss, damage or harm to your clientele. But volunteer managers can also manage the amount of risk the non-profit is subjected to by following a few steps.

First, identify each volunteer position and its associated level of risk. Your organization chart should have all positions clarified, but if not, you can easily add to it. Think about risk in the amount of contact the position has with confidential information, money or financial information or with vulnerable populations.

  • Low risk means no contact.
  • Medium risk means supervised contact with vulnerable persons, and no contact with confidential information or money.
  • High risk means unsupervised contact with vulnerable populations and/or contact with confidential information and/or money.

Then, prepare job descriptions that establish guidelines and standards of behavior for each position. Make sure the role’s title, responsibilities and duties are clear. Establish goals, as well as boundaries. Mention any qualifications or skills required, as well as the amount of time needed to successfully fill the position.

Each job description should include any training required, supervision required or provided, conditions such as driving, lifting or standing, and tasks it takes to meet the responsibilities.

Finally, establish standards for volunteer screening, according to the level of risk for each position. Low-risk volunteers may simply need an identity check to make sure they are who they say they are. Medium risk would include the identity check as well as require a criminal background check, including sex offender status. High risk would include a top-level identity, criminal background, sex offender and credit check.

It’s important to note when volunteers change positions or move around on the fly. Be cautious about allowing low-risk volunteers to switch into a high-risk role—even for a day—without conducting a deeper background check.

The alternative is to conduct the highest-level volunteer screening on all potential volunteers. Then, you don’t have to worry about a registered sex offender or convicted drug dealer having contact with children, the elderly or the vulnerable.

Dos and Don’ts for Successful Volunteer Interviews

Friday, May 24th, 2013

volunteer screeningJust as in the for-profit world, the importance of interviewing cannot be overstated. Non-profit organizations are placed in a delicate position, because unlike employers, volunteers may feel insulted if put through their paces in the interviewing and screening process.

However, bringing in the right people is vital to the success of any organization. And successful volunteer recruiting requires successful interviewing. Here are some dos and don’ts that can make the interview process more effective:

  • Don’t be swayed by others: Often, volunteers recommend their friends and acquaintances. In fact, current volunteers are great recruiters for your organization. But when it comes to the interview process, focus on the applicant and the facts, not on what you’ve been told. Jane or Justin might not be the solution to all your problems, no matter what has been said.
  • Do pay attention to language: An interviewee who is unaware or uncaring about the language he or she uses with you is likely to continue in that realm around board members, clients and the public when representing your organization. People can be easily offended by vulgar, sexist or racist language, so if you hear any during the interview take it into consideration.
  • Don’t judge by appearance: We all tend to form impressions based on limited exposure to a person—it’s human nature. But the best-dressed and most clean-cut people can still be dangerous to vulnerable populations. Only a complete volunteer screening and background check will tell you whether a prospective volunteer is safe to serve your organization’s clients, drive its vehicles and handle its funds.
  • Do allow plenty of time: You may not have ample time in your day to interview potential volunteers, but this important task should not be shortchanged. Squeezing interviews between other meetings or being ill-prepared will likely result in a bad decision. You could either miss important red flags about a volunteer or overlook qualities and skills you need to accomplish your goals. Neither results in an effective volunteer workforce.

A Shocking Example of the Importance of Volunteer Screening

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkA sex offender was arrested in San Jose, Calif. for violating his probation by volunteering at a church festival, where children were present. He was spotted at the festival by an acquaintance of his victim.

Under the terms of his probation, the registered sex offender was prohibited from doing volunteer work with an organization that involves supervision of children less than 18 years of age. The 51-year-old man acknowledged the violation of his probation, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Fortunately, this man was taken out of the situation before he could cause harm. But what if he had not been recognized? One or more children could have been harmed, and their lives permanently damaged. The church clearly failed in its duty to protect the children at the festival.

Why take such a risk? In this case, the priest in charge said the man “should be forgiven” (he has since resigned his position). In other cases, organizations fear that volunteer screening will scare off prospective volunteers. The evidence refutes this; in fact, being careful and thoughtful about whom you allow to volunteer with your nonprofit can make people feel better about the organization and its commitment to protecting vulnerable people of all ages.

Every volunteer position has its own set of risks. Those dealing directly with at-risk populations, such as the elderly, children, mentally disabled, animals or non-English speakers, should always require volunteer pre-screening, before any interaction takes place.

It’s a good idea to set up a risk analysis of each volunteer position in your organization. Those that involve trust, handling funds, working with vulnerable populations, driving or other potential areas for loss or damages should also require a background check, credit check or both.

Thousands of registered sex offenders and people convicted of sex, drug or violent crimes could be walking around your town. Don’t let them near your clients, staff or other volunteers! Know the facts before you bring anyone into your organization.

Get Your Volunteer Files in Order

Friday, March 29th, 2013

volunteer screeningIt’s always a good idea to have your personnel files in good shape—and that includes volunteer personnel, as well. Some federal and state grants and other funding require employment documentation and reporting, while other funding sources may want to inspect your records. Besides, many state and federal laws require recordkeeping.

Here’s what every employee and volunteer file should contain:

  • Original employment or volunteer application.
  • Resume.
  • Original signed authorization for pre-employment background check or volunteer background screening.
  • Any written notices from the records check. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the applicant be given copies of the notices.
  • Tax forms, such as the W-4 for withholding federal and social security taxes.
  • Any state-required tax forms.
  • Hiring documentation, such as signed offer letters.
  • Performance evaluations, change forms (for job titles, raises, job changes, benefits plans, etc.)
  • Direct deposit authorization.

Confidential paperwork, such as drug test results, background check results or medical information should be kept in a secure file.

Employment eligibility verification forms (Form I-9) for all employees should be kept together in a separate file.

Keep all personnel files in a locked cabinet and restrict access to two or three people; for example, the HR person, the volunteer manager and the executive director. Keep a log so when an employee’s file is reviewed it can be noted with the date, person who reviewed it, and reason.

Take care when destroying confidential records. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2005 requires all employers to burn or shred all applicant, employee and volunteer personal information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses and telephone numbers, as well as any information reported to a consumer reporting agency for a background check.

Can you trust every person who volunteers for your agency? Conduct background checks on all volunteers. Rely on for your volunteer screening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with volunteer background checks.

Volunteer Screening is a Must-Do

Friday, September 7th, 2012

volunteer screening, background checkThe news is filled with stories of volunteers who are accused of stealing money from charities, abusing kids under their care or sexually assaulting vulnerable people. Unfortunately, the perpetrators often gain access to their victims through agencies, charities, schools or religious organizations they volunteer for.

No nonprofit director or volunteer manager wants to be responsible for any harm suffered by an organization or its clients, staff members or other volunteers. That’s why it’s a good idea to take proper precautions and thoroughly screen every volunteer who may have contact not only with vulnerable populations, but with anyone in the organization.

People who prey on others may think that a nonprofit organization won’t follow the same stringent procedures as an employer would. They may be under the impression that because they are giving their time, they won’t be subjected to any background screening or credit check.

Why take the chance of proving them right? Volunteer screening is a quick and easy process that can bring great peace of mind. Requiring every volunteer to fill out an application that states they will be asked to undergo a background check could be your first deterrent. Chances are that someone who means to do financial or other harm will move on to the next organization. Following through will ensure that you are doing everything you can to protect the organization, its staff and volunteers, and the people who depend on its services.

In addition to formal background checks, credit checks and criminal history checks, it’s a good idea to ask for references—and to contact each of them before bringing a new volunteer in.

When it comes to volunteers, there is no such thing as being too careful!

More Volunteers Assist the Aged

Friday, July 6th, 2012, volunteer background checkAs the elderly population increases in the U.S. and around the world, services to assist seniors continue to grow in demand. Senior citizens who wish to remain in their own homes can get help with meal preparation or transportation to doctor’s appointments. They can get rides to the grocery store or have their yard work and housecleaning taken care of. Or, they may just have face-to-face or telephone check ins to make sure they’re managing okay.

Often, these services are lifelines for seniors, and make the difference between the ability to remain at home and going into assisted living. Many of these services are provided by federal, state and local agencies. Private for-profit companies provide other services. And increasingly, senior services are provided by nonprofit organizations with volunteer labor.

One couple, both in their 70s, were unable to drive to their frequent medical appointments. With no relatives living nearby, they faced a difficult choice—until a local community outreach organization sent volunteers to pick them up, take them to the doctor and then deliver them back home. Another needs help with keeping their home clean. Volunteers who come to clean can also check up on the elderly and report on any concerns for follow-up by appropriate agencies.

Matching volunteers with seniors is an important aspect of the service. Orientation and training sessions for new volunteers are vital to help them learn about the aging process. Volunteers must also be carefully screened, undergoing background checks before having any contact with vulnerable populations.

Many senior service organizations are experiencing an aging of their volunteers, as well. Recruiting new volunteers is an ongoing challenge. Fortunately, the growing number of retiring baby boomers looking for meaningful volunteer work should help to boost the numbers of willing volunteers.

A growing population of elderly people who need help will continue to provide volunteer opportunities long into the future—for people of all ages.

Penn State Scandal Reveals Need to Screen and Monitor Volunteers

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

screen volunteersJerry Sandusky, the disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach, insists he’s no pedophile. Whether he engaged in “horseplay” or sexually abused children will be up to a jury to decide. Regardless of his claims, he certainly set things up to make it easier for young kids to become victims of his inappropriate behavior.

The details emerging in this case show that Sandusky used classic pedophile methods to get close to kids. Contrary to the stereotypical picture of an old man in a trench coat near the playground, pedophiles are skilled at building trust in kids so they have opportunities to abuse them. They “hide in plain sight” and are often known and respected by parents, teachers and other responsible adults. They are coaches, ministers, Boy Scout leaders and other volunteers.

Working on kids over a period of time, they build up trust and strive to separate the vulnerable from the adults or stronger kids who would be able to protect them.

Sandusky’s volunteer activities included running youth football camps and a charity he founded for at-risk youth. These activities gave him plenty of time with young boys. It gave him access to kids without a strong parental presence in their lives. It gave him opportunities to groom them into viewing the sexual abuse as normal, and blurring the line between good touching and bad touching.

When a popular public figure like Jerry Sandusky is the perpetrator, victims may feel even more hesitant to report abuse. They may wonder if the problem is themselves; they may think someone like Sandusky should be trusted—especially if his parents and others kids trust him.

When it comes to volunteers who have access to children or vulnerable adults, the best defense is an extremely strong defense. Conduct background screening of volunteers to keep criminals away from your organization. Run personality tests on potential leaders to determine if they have risky qualities that don’t show on the surface. And never allow an adult and a vulnerable person of any age to be alone.

Three Volunteer Management Myths

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkVolunteer management can be a satisfying and rewarding career. If you’re thinking about joining the field, it may be helpful to know some of the myths surrounding volunteers and non profits.

  1. Volunteers are free: Not true. While they do not receive wages or benefits, volunteers often do require resources such as training and supervising. The wages and benefits paid to any staff member involved with volunteers is a direct cost of having them. And keeping volunteers happy may involve buying gifts, throwing parties, or other forms of appreciation that will cost the organization money, as well.
  2. Anyone can manage volunteers: Another myth. Volunteering is on the rise, and as more people seek ways to give back or gain experience in a down economy, more organizations find they need someone to manage them. And that takes a variety of skills. For example, state and federal funding, and private grants may require extensive reporting on volunteer hours and activities. Volunteers need to be communicated with, regularly and well. And recruiting volunteers takes yet another set of skills, with networking, interviewing and screening volunteer backgrounds and criminal histories.
  3. All organizations can handle volunteers: Knowing that volunteers require management and can be a significant expense to an organization, it is worth asking if yours can take on volunteers. Ask questions such as:
  • Do you have tasks that need to be done that would be appropriate for volunteers? Where will you use volunteers?
  • Will volunteers further the mission of your organization?
  • Who will manage them?
  • What benefits will volunteers gain working with you organization?
  • What problems can you anticipate and how will they be handled?
  • And most important: Why should you bring in volunteers?

Volunteers are an investment and an asset to an organization. And while many people are suited to manage them, not everyone is. And not all non profit organizations are suited to bringing in volunteers. If you’re being recruited to be a volunteer manager, assess your skills and the organization’s needs before jumping in!

Recruiting Volunteers By Promoting Career Development

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Volunteer screening, volunteer background checkLinkedIn, the world’s largest professional social networking site, has recognized the value of volunteering to career development by allowing users to list their public-service efforts under a new section. The new “Volunteer Experience and Causes” feature encourages LinkedIn users to tout their volunteer work to help them stand out to potential employers.

According to a random survey of nearly 2,000 people, LinkedIn found that the vast majority (89%) had volunteer experience. But only 45% reported their volunteer experiences on their career profiles.

Some said they didn’t think their experience would be interesting to hiring managers, while others said it had just never occurred to them. However, 41% of respondents said they did consider volunteer work to be as valuable as paid work, while 20% of managers polled in the survey said they make hiring decision based on volunteer work.

So volunteer managers, how can you use this when recruiting new volunteers?

  • First, use the survey information to your advantage. Demonstrating that you have a grasp on what’s happening in the recruiting/hiring world automatically makes you look like someone who’s worth knowing—and volunteering for.
  • Post messages like “Volunteering with us is good for your resume” on your organization’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Catch attention by citing statistics, and list your current volunteer openings.
  • Remind volunteers to add their experience to their resume and LinkedIn profile. They will appreciate the tip, and the fact that they’re volunteering for a forward-thinking organization.
  • Give volunteers career-enhancing tasks that improve your organization’s operations, marketing efforts, accounting, or outreach. For example, ask a marketing volunteer to set up a plan to increase your Twitter followers, or an easy way to update the Facebook page to keep supporters informed and engaged. The experience will benefit them as well as you.

When you bring on new volunteers, be sure to properly screen them. When volunteers have access to a nonprofit’s clients, financial information, sensitive records, property, and reputation, the risk of harm is too great to skip doing volunteer background screening, including criminal background checks and volunteer credit checks.