Posts Tagged ‘screening volunteers’

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!

Mandated Volunteer Pre-Screening

Friday, 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.

Smaller Volunteer Agencies May Be More Susceptible to Fraud

Friday, July 20th, 2012

volunteer screening, background checksIt seems that the news is peppered with stories about small, local charity agencies that are falling prey to fraud by trusted volunteers. Church groups, youth sports clubs, elderly service organizations—they can all be victims of crimes like theft, misappropriation of funds and money laundering. Whether the thief takes money, equipment or other needed goods, nonprofits are often ill-equipped to carry the loss and rebound. Many go under as a result of financial misconduct.

Back in the 1950s, a famous criminologist developed the “Fraud Triangle” theory. It outlines the three key elements at play when otherwise law-abiding volunteers succumb to temptation and engage in fraud: opportunity, motivation and rationalization. For some, the motivation is debt. For others, they rationalize that the organization doesn’t need the money, and a small amount won’t be missed. Still other volunteers may need money to pay for their own or a loved one’s drug problems.

Since it’s clear that even those in positions of great trust will turn to fraud, non profit organizations must take precautions to prevent volunteers from having the opportunity to do so.

Here are some tips to control opportunity:

  • Establish a system of control to deter and detect fraud. Never allow just one person access to checking accounts, books and financial records. Require double signatures on all checks over a given amount, and have the books audited by a professional on a regular basis. Don’t have the same people who collect money to also deposit it.
  • Promote openness. Thieves thrive in secret, closed-off, non-communicative environments. Promote open communication and encourage everyone to report any suspicious behavior. It’s not necessary to be paranoid, but it is best to be proactive to protect the goodwill of the organization, and to ensure its stability and ability to fulfill its mission.
  • Have a zero-tolerance policy. Let everyone know that any suspected fraud will be investigated, not swept under the rug.
And of course, conduct background checks on all volunteers. Rely on for your volunteer prescreening services. Protect your staff, clients, and your community with volunteer background checks.

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.

Reconsidering Your Volunteer Screening Procedures? Think Again!

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkA quick scan of today’s news reveals the following stories:

  • School volunteer charged with assaulting a child
  • Church volunteer charged with stealing $32,000
  • Braintree, MA volunteer charged with molesting kids
  • Scouts Canada volunteer facing sexual assault charges

These are headlines for just one afternoon on an average day in an average week. What do they reveal? Volunteers are still harming children and stealing funds–perhaps in larger numbers than ever. Non-profit organizations and volunteer coordinators that have cut back on or eliminated volunteer background checks to save money might want to reconsider that action.

Most schools require volunteers to be screened prior to contact with children, but far too often there are no follow-up criminal history checks. Does the volunteer you screened five years ago still have a clean record? Or is he on probation for resisting police officers and failing to comply with bail conditions, as is the case for the volunteer soccer coach from our first headline?

Churches don’t always screen their volunteers—but just because someone is a loyal member doesn’t mean they won’t steal from the coffers, as was the case in the second headline.

The person in Braintree, Mass who allegedly assaulted two young boys (he pleaded not guilty) works for the Boston Housing Authority, is a Cub Scout leader and religious education teacher at his Catholic church. Can this be the first time he’s fallen through the cracks?

And in our final example, the young man facing the sexual assault charges had undergone a police records check and other screening procedures. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the impact his actions will have on the lives of his alleged victims. Is more thorough screening called for when young men are placed in close proximity to young girls?

Remember that those who wish to harm children and other vulnerable people often place themselves in close proximity to them. If your volunteers have any contact with kids, the elderly, the disable or other vulnerable populations, perhaps it’s time to rethink your screening procedures to reduce the chance of harm as much as possible.

Guidelines for Screening Volunteers

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

volunteer screening blogManaging risk in a non-profit organization can take many forms: proper management, adequate insurance coverage and financial oversight are three ways to prevent loss. Another is thoroughly screening all volunteers. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Create some standards for your volunteer screening process, and apply them to every volunteer applicant. You may decide to run the same level of background and credit check on each applicant. Or, you may determine the risk level to the organization of each volunteer position, and increase or decrease the screening level accordingly.
  • Decide what to do with the information you receive on the credit and criminal background report. For example, if a potential volunteer has had several speeding tickets or other moving violations, you may decide they are qualified to supervise a kids’ basketball game, but not to drive the organization’s van to the game. It’s also important to decide at what level of legal trouble an applicant will be rejected.
  • Keep good records. A spreadsheet listing the volunteer’s name, position, important dates, and results of the background check and reference checks could come in handy some day.
  • If your organization serves vulnerable populations, it makes sense to take extra care with your interview and screening process. The same applies for any position that requires the volunteer to interact with the general public. But keep in mind that anyone deemed unsuitable to work with the public will probably have contact with other volunteers and staff—do you want them exposed to such a risk?

Remember, whether an employee is paid or a volunteer, the organization could be subject to liability for any harm resulting from his or her actions. Don’t subject your non-profit to unnecessary risk—conduct volunteer background screening on every applicant!

Why Screen Volunteers?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

volunteerscreeningblog.comVolunteers are just like any other staff member that comes into your nonprofit organization. They are usually unknown, unpredictable and will do the unexpected while working for your NPO. It’s important to know as much as you can about each volunteer before they can cause harm and it’s vital to the safety and strength of the organization to use the same background screening procedures you use for employees.

Why is it Important to Screen Volunteers?
To Protect the People You Serve
: This is the most important reason to screen volunteers—to keep dangerous people away from your clients. Adults who work with kids or teens, elderly caregivers and home visitation volunteers should always undergo background screening.

To Limit Liability: If your NPO serves the public, the entire organization is at risk whenever and wherever a volunteer is placed—especially with at-risk populations such as children or the elderly. If harm is done to a member of the public, the NPO could be held liable for a volunteer’s behavior. Thorough background screening will weed out volunteers with arrests or other criminal activities in their pasts.

Because it Could be Mandatory: Nonprofits that depend on federal and state funding are usually required to perform background screening on employees and volunteers.

To Protect the Organization’s Reputation: Volunteer screening allows a nonprofit to enjoy a good reputation in the community, which can lead to more support. Having a “loosey-goosey” approach to placing volunteers can harm an NPO’s standing in the community.

To Discourage Predators: Often, just knowing your organization conducts background screening will be enough to keep away volunteers who might be seeking inappropriate contact with children. Conversely, a no-screening policy could look like an open invitation to offenders and predators to come right in and start working with vulnerable populations.
Volunteer managers and nonprofit organizations are vulnerable to financial loss and inappropriate or dangerous behavior of volunteers. Criminal background screening on all volunteers can protect your organization, staff, and clientele from harm.

Volunteer Interview Tips for Nonprofit Managers

Friday, April 24th, 2009


Keep It Professional

Keep It Professional

Potential volunteers may be knocking on your door in larger numbers than you expect. Volunteerism is on the rise, not only because the spirit of giving back in the US is strong, but because the economy is weak. Whether they want give back to their community or remove gaps in their resume, how do you handle an increase in volunteers?

If you’re in the position where you have more potential volunteers than you have work for, then you’ll need to screen prospective volunteers carefully to ensure you make a good match. Here are a few tips when considering volunteer candidates.

Treat the Process Like a Job Interview
Because it is! Your organization has work to do; whether it is handled by paid or volunteer workers, it must be done properly and efficiently. So review the prospective volunteer’s credentials and experience. Ask the tough questions, like:

What is your interest in our organization?
What do you hope to accomplish here?
What do you hope to get out of the experience?

Fit the Volunteer With the Right Position
Here’s where the process differs from a job interview. Your volunteers don’t always apply for a specific position—many will offer to do whatever needs to be done.  Don’t take the easy route and have Mary, a laid-off computer programmer, start revamping the donor database. And Jason, the college student, might not be the best choice for repainting the restrooms.  Drill down a bit to find out not only what they would be good at, but what they want to do. Perhaps Mary needs a break, and would much rather drive elderly clients to the Senior Center. Jason might rather be outside cutting grass and edging sidewalks than inside with a paintbrush. Try these questions:

What gives you the greatest satisfaction at work?
What would you like to do here?
What would you like to avoid? 
What do you do for fun?

What NOT to Say
Now we go back to treating it like a job interview! Protect yourself and your organization by complying with employment laws. Avoid being too personal. You may have a genuine rapport with your potential volunteer, but until they have been properly screened, you need to keep it professional. Remember to steer clear of illegal questions, such as race, national origin, sexual identity, age, and marital status. Religious and family questions are also inappropriate. If or where someone goes to church, and how many children they have, can come up in friendly conversation if they initiate it later, but not during the interview.

Volunteer Screening
Failing to properly screen potential volunteers could have negative consequences for your NPO and the population it serves, from damaging the organization’s reputation to legal or criminal issues. Background screening is the best way to ensure you are introducing qualified individuals to your organization, its employees and those you serve.

Avoiding Dishonest Volunteers

Friday, February 27th, 2009

volunteerscreeningblogWe’ve all heard the stories of nationally-known religious leaders who defrauded their churches for large sums of money. But there are countless untold stories of volunteers who damage smaller organizations in big ways. They range from PTA presidents to phony CPAs; from Board treasurers to thrift store cashiers. Their victims are programs designed to assist children and teachers, or the homeless, or youth sports associations. Nationally, non profits suffer great financial losses from corrupt volunteers.

Some dishonest people are on a mission to steal: they volunteer to gain access to an organization’s financial records. Others just find it too easy to take a little off the top when nobody’s looking. Some have gambling addictions; others steal for the thrill; still others just need the cash. Their communities and friends are always shocked by the criminal actions of these seemingly good people.

Fraud is a concern for all organizations—and you simply cannot tell a person’s character by appearance. Even articulate, outgoing, well-dressed, and happy-to-help volunteers can be deceitful—and folks who are good at lying can hide some very scary secrets. Luckily, fraud can be avoided with proper controls and procedures.

Volunteer screening is the first defense against fraud. Background screening is routinely performed by smart employers when hiring new staff. But it’s just as important for non profits recruiting unpaid help. The volunteer recruiter’s responsibility is to prevent monetary theft from the organization and to protect the people it serves, its staff, and its other volunteers. Volunteer screening is an easy way to protect the organization from those potential volunteers who have personal profit on their agendas, as well as those hiding violent or predatory pasts. It’s vitally important to screen potential volunteers for all of these issues.

Help prevent fraud in your organization with background checks. Proper volunteer screening will help keep your organization safe.