A Shocking Example of the Importance of Volunteer Screening

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

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 CriminalData.com for your volunteer screening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with volunteer background checks.

Be an Extraordinary Volunteer Manager

March 15th, 2013

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkIf you’ve ever worked under a great leader, you can probably think of traits that made him or her seem completely unique. Realistically, great leaders often share a few common traits. And these traits are often simply good habits they’ve developed over the years.

With effort, any good leader can become extraordinary. Whether you’re managing paid employees or volunteers, the following traits of great leaders are worth emulating.

  • Community: Great leaders want everyone to be included. They focus on the needs of the whole, rather than the few—and certainly not their own needs. When your volunteers feel more included, they want to help more.
  • Coaching: Extraordinary leaders are great coaches. They naturally mentor those under them, are great listeners and offer sound advice. They don’t micromanage, however—they know it’s important to allow employees to make decisions and mistakes, and learn from them.
  • Openness: Great leaders are open to new ideas. They love finding new ways to tackle old problems, have open-door policies and enjoy hearing what everyone has to say.
  • Humility: Great leaders often have great senses of humor, and can laugh at themselves. Volunteers, who are working for free, appreciated such humility. A light-hearted atmosphere builds camaraderie and makes people more willing to work hard.
  • Vision: Extraordinary managers have the ability to help others visualize the future—and follow them to it. In addition, they create a shared vision for everyone, not just themselves.
  • Trust: The best managers instill trust in those they lead. What’s more, they inspire others to be trustworthy. In a nonprofit organization, trust is essential to avoiding politics, games and other productivity-killing silliness.
  • Truth: Even when the truth is unpleasant, great leaders tell it anyway. They know that avoiding or hiding the truth does nothing to avert a bad situation. Treating volunteers like adults who can handle the truth will instill loyalty—and may result in some creative solutions to the problem.

When extraordinary leaders are present, volunteers are typically happier and more productive. They are inspired to work with the group toward common goals, and are more likely to stick around longer, too. Try working on these traits, or habits, and become an extraordinary volunteer leader!

Mandated Volunteer Pre-Screening

March 1st, 2013

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkAll volunteers should be screened before they begin work with your organization. While most people who sign up to be volunteers are trustworthy, it only takes one bad apple to change the course of your organization. If you unknowingly have a convicted felon, embezzler, child or elder abuser, or drunk driver among your volunteers, he or she could cause a lot of damage that might never be reversed.

It’s always better to know whom you’re working with before something bad happens in the office or with a client. Volunteer screening can keep you from bringing in drug felons, child abusers and sex offenders.

Volunteer screening may also be mandated. For example:

  • For many organizations, volunteer screening is required by the federal government, as a condition of receiving funds.
  • A look at state laws reveals the Minnesota, Florida, Oregon and others have enacted legislation making background checks mandatory for volunteers who work with kids, the elderly, the disabled or other vulnerable populations.

Sports leagues are increasingly requiring adults who volunteer as coaches, assistants, umpires and referees to undergo background checks before they are allowed to work with kids:

  • As of January 1, the American Legion has started requiring background checks for coaches, managers and volunteer staff of their junior and senior American Legion Baseball teams.
  • Coral Springs, Florida has also implemented a mandatory volunteer background check policy for adult volunteers in city sports leagues.
  • The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has also implemented mandatory background screening for all staff, coaches and volunteers, in an effort to “foster a culture of safety.” In addition, every person involved in AAU programs will be required to report any known or suspected child abuse to law enforcement.

It makes sense that nonprofit organizations working with at-risk kids or adults would want to know that every volunteer has a clean record. But it’s also a good idea for nonprofits who want to ensure that their funds, vehicles, staff and volunteers are protected.

Tracking Volunteer Time

February 21st, 2013

volunteer screening, background checkWhy should nonprofit organizations track volunteer hours? The reasons to do so are varied:

  • The number of hours volunteers give to an organization can made a big difference in how prospective supporters, from individuals to large foundations, perceive it. If the community supports your mission, they’re more inclined to do so.
  • Government agencies require volunteer hours reporting from organizations they provide funding to.
  • Some grant money is tied to a certain matching dollar amount, which can often be demonstrated in terms of volunteer hours.
  • Supporters want to be sure that the organization has people in place to get the job done.
  • In many cases, organizations are required to report the value of volunteer labor and services in their financial statements. Tracking hours facilitates good reporting.

Even if you’re not required to track and report volunteer hours, it’s still a good idea to do so. Volunteers want to know they’re part of something bigger, and when those hours add up at the end of the year, it can really boost the pride your volunteers feel.

How to track Volunteer Hours

You can use a simple form to gather volunteer information by the day or week. Just be sure to capture the information as soon as possible so nothing gets overlooked. This system would require entering the daily or weekly data into a spreadsheet or similar tracking system, which could be tedious.

Volunteer management software tools are great for scheduling, recruiting and tracking volunteer hours. There are quite a few on the market, and many offer a free trial so you can try several and determine which one best meets your needs.

5 New Ideas for Fundraising

February 15th, 2013

volunteer screening

  1. Crowdsourcing: Sites like Crowdrise have made it easy to get the word out about your cause and connect with people who might want to support it. Create a project and Crowdrise will put it out there for a vote. Firstgiving helps organizations fundraise online.
  2. Storytelling: Help donors make a good decision. People want to connect to their causes, and there’s no better way to do that than to tell your story well. Create vignettes of the people you serve and how your organization improved their lives. Feature a board member, to describe how important members of your community are involved in volunteering at the management level. Elicit an emotion from a reader, and you’re more likely to elicit a donation as well.
  3. Get reviewed: Just as on Travel Advisor or Yelp, people want to check out charities before they give. So make sure you seek reviews from community leaders, supporters and volunteers. Then, share them through GuideStar, Philanthropedia and GreatNonprofits. Watch your credibility soar!
  4. Follow up: You’ll leave donors with a great impression if you follow up with them after they give. Let them know how you used the funds, and they’ll be more likely to give in the future, and tell their friends about how great your organization is.
  5. Give the opportunity to get involved: Donors, especially younger ones, want to be part of something bigger. They don’t want to just write a check. They want experiences, even if it’s just signing a petition or sharing your Facebook page with friends.

Improve Your Organization’s Culture With Improv Training

February 7th, 2013

volunteer screening, volunteer credit checkWho knew that learning improvisational comedy—like every Saturday Night Live and Second City comedy troupe alum has done—could improve work performance for mere mortals? Not only does improv teach you how to think on your feet, but it boosts confidence, too.

That’s why many workplaces are incorporating improv into their training mix. Those who undergo comedy training find it’s an asset in their professional life, along with their social life. Companies find it improves the entire workplace culture.

Nonprofit organizations could take a cue from the corporate world. Since every staff member and volunteer also serves as a spokesperson for the organization, it makes sense to help them polish their presentation skills. Participants are more comfortable speaking up in meetings, too, and often more work can get done in less time.

Improv workshops are also great for team building and icebreaking. Helping a new group of staff and volunteers get to know each other, or doing an annual comedy retreat for staff, can really help the bonding process. Even a single workshop can help.

Learning improv skills together removes barriers between people. Participants are encouraged to tell true stories, and are therefore almost always humble and even vulnerable. They let their guard down, and show their true selves. Others share their similar experiences, and everyone finds common ground—so important when building a team to further your charity’s mission.

Essential business skills like creativity, leadership and quick decision-making are all part of improv. Learning these skills in a fun and different way has been successful for countless companies. You might want to try using it for your volunteer and staff training.

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

Non Profits Welcome Microvolunteers

January 31st, 2013

volunteer screeningBusy workers seem to have less time than ever. Between work, family obligations, second jobs or part-time school, more people are seeing their free time swallowed up. When people have fewer free hours, they contribute fewer of them to volunteering.

Traditional volunteer duties can take hours that many just don’t have. But some companies are jumping on the “microvolunteering” bandwagon, and making it more convenient for their employees give back to their communities.

Microvolunteering was inspired by the thought of the number of hours employees spend on social media each day—and turning that time into volunteer time. Now, employers like Kraft Foods Group, Inc. are allowing employees to volunteer from their desks, in short bursts.

Employees might write a newsletter, translate documents, participate in online brainstorming sessions or update a nonprofit’s social media pages. There is no need for workers to leave the office and drive to another location, spending a day or half day onsite. Volunteers can help out at any time—not just specific hours or events. Plus, they don’t have to give up precious family and friend time on weekends or evenings.

Tapping into volunteers’ at-work free time, such as breaks or lunch hours, is a great way to recruit new volunteers, or re-engage volunteers who have fallen by the wayside. Using their writing, graphic design, data analysis or language skills makes it easy to put them right to work.

Employers who really want to help out their communities don’t limit employees to using only their free time for microvolunteering. Some allow a certain number of hours per month to be spent giving back. The companies also gain from the relationship, since employees are building skills, creating connections between the corporation and community, and learning more about professional development.

If you’re looking to corporate partners to provide some volunteers for your organization, pitch the microvolunteering idea. It’s a great way to turn a few minutes of time into a lasting gift to your non profit organization!

Performance Reviews for Volunteers and Employees

December 21st, 2012

screening volunteers, volunteer background checkAre performance reviews effective? Many non profits conduct them with staffers, but not volunteers. But most people can benefit from a periodic review of their work. Performance reviews can even inspire people to improve on the job.

But performance reviews can be tough, especially if a) your subject is not getting paid, but is volunteering their time; b) you’re supervising those who do menial tasks; or c) you have long-term employees who know their jobs and perform them satisfactorily.

Maybe it’s time for a new approach. Instead of supervisor/subordinate, look at collaborations, commitments and accountabilities. Try starting from the beginning. Gather all employees and volunteers together and have the leadership team take them through the organization’s mission, vision and goals. Tell stories of how the nonprofit changes lives, impacts the community and makes the world a better place. And let the team know what you need from them to achieve success.

  • Then let the team know how they are doing overall—not individually. Review the deliverables that must occur for the organization to thrive, from bringing in donations to providing quality services. Teach them how they can improve.
  • Set measurable goals together. Encourage feedback and team-led initiatives to establish steps to meet the goals. Support the teams with time to get together and hold meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • Ask for commitment from all staffers and volunteers. Each person can make promises about what they will do to contribute. As a manager, your role is to follow up, offer encouragement, solve problems, and offer tools to help them achieve success.

Volunteering Trending Up in the United States

December 13th, 2012

volunteer screening volunteer credit checkAccording to a new report by The Federal Agency for Service and Volunteering, indicates a trend toward more volunteers and more hours volunteered in the U.S. In 2011, 64.3 million Americans volunteered for a formal organization. That’s an increase of 1.5 million over 2010, for the highest level in five years.

Collectively, 7.85 billion hours were volunteered, with an economic value of $171 billion. All told, 26.8% of Americans volunteered in 2011.

Overwhelmingly, Americans volunteered in schools or with other youth organizations. Parents with children under 18 years of age volunteer in larger numbers, by fundraising, collecting and distributing food, mentoring youth, and tutoring or teaching.

The top states for the percentage of residents volunteering are:

  1. Utah (40.9%)
  2. Idaho (38.8%)
  3. Iowa (38.4%)
  4. Minnesota (38%)
  5. South Dakota (36.8%)

It looks like the good people of the Midwest are more active in volunteering than the rest of the nation. To find out how your state ranked, go here.

Another report out this week from the Peace Corps lists the top 10 home states of Peace Corps volunteers:

  1. California (1,084)
  2. New York (448)
  3. Texas (381)
  4. Washington (378)
  5. Illinois (352)
  6. Florida (351)
  7. Pennsylvania (330)
  8. Michigan (316)
  9. Virginia (303)
  10. Ohio (291)

However, in terms of per-capita volunteers, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Colorado, Montana, Maine, Minnesota and Idaho are the top 10 states.

If you’re in charge of volunteers who work with children, the elderly, at-risk populations or the public, be sure to conduct volunteer screening. Find out who your volunteers really are, whether they are sex offenders, have criminal backgrounds or are a risk to your organization and clients.