Posts Tagged ‘volunteer screening’

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.

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.

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!

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.

Remote Volunteers Can Help Fill the Gaps

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

background screening, volunteer background checkJust because a potential volunteer doesn’t have time to commute to your location doesn’t mean you should pass them by. Remote and web commuting can help your organization boost volunteer contributions without adding to greenhouse gases.

How does remote volunteering work? Just like remote working. According to Forrester research, about 62% of the information technology workforce works from multiple locations in the workweek, from home, the office, on the road, or other locations. Like these workers, when volunteers have all the tools needed to access documents, email, and calendars, they can help your organization, regardless of where they happen to be.

Of course, if your organization is a food bank and you need help unloading a truck, you’ll need on-the-ground volunteers. But there are dozens of other volunteer duties that don’t require physical presence:
• Entering supporter information into a database
• Soliciting donations for a fundraiser
• Accounting duties
• Paying bills
• Maintaining or updating the website
• Writing blog posts
• Creating a newsletter
• Updating Facebook and Twitter accounts
• Researching possible events
• Outreach to new supporters

Especially for sensitive functions, such as accounting and banking, your volunteer will need to be fully vetted, with a thorough background check and credit check. Most organizations would only trust a long-time volunteer or board officer with these types of duties. Just make sure they have secure access to online banking. It’s a good idea to supply a paper shredder and training in proper security. And, thorough screening is still necessary!

Giving volunteers the option to work remotely will enhance your ability to attract top talent and retain devoted volunteers who are experts in their fields.

Volunteer Management: Assessing Liability and Managing Risk

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

volunteer screenigCan a non-profit organization (NPO) be held liable for the actions of its volunteers? In general, common law allows that negligence in hiring is viewed equally whether a case involves a paid or unpaid volunteer position. Putting volunteers in positions where they can cause harm to others is a principle source of liability to NPOs.

Whether or not the volunteer coordinator, executive director, or board of directors know or should have known a volunteer posed an unreasonable risk of harm, and whether or not the NPO has any control over the volunteer’s activities are important considerations.

The best defense is a good offense, so knowing up front if a volunteer poses an unreasonable risk is the first step in preventing harm and the liability that comes with it. Screening volunteers is the only way to determine whether or not they pose a risk to a non-profit organization or its clientele.

Strong and safe volunteer recruiting procedures always include volunteer screening. It’s important to know what position a volunteer applicant will be filling once they are approved, so you can determine the level of screening required. This is typically based on the potential risk the position presents.

  • Low-risk-level volunteer positions
    Filing, answering telephones, database management, marketing
  • Medium-risk-level volunteer positions
    Serving meals, working in a service office, making deliveries to clients, cleaning, painting, landscaping
  • Higher-risk-level volunteer positions
    Board of directors, financial and accounting, operating NPO-owned vehicles or equipment, caring for animals, any contact with the general public, working directly with clients, especially young, elderly and vulnerable populations

Professional volunteer background screening and credit checks can assure a non-profit organization’s clients and the public that its volunteers do not present a risk of harm. A trusted, thorough volunteer screening partner can recommend the most appropriate level of screening for your needs.

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!

Volunteer Screening is Often Mandated

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

volunteer screening, volunteer background checkNonprofit organizations don’t have it easy these days. From cuts in state funding to lower donations from supporters, many charitable organizations must battle every day just to keep the doors open. And not all have succeeded. With all the difficulties facing NPO directors, they have their hands full. Added regulations and time-intensive requirements can seem unnecessary.

But there is one that is not: conducting background checks on volunteers. “Why should we be required to run background checks?” said one NPO director. “I don’t have the time or budget, and all of our volunteers are model citizens.”

This must be one lucky NPO manager! Others have not been so lucky. Volunteers come from all backgrounds, and just like the general public, there are a certain percentage of honest volunteers, dishonest volunteers, and volunteers with criminal histories—or worse, sex offender status.

Despite a lack of time or budget, nonprofit organizations depending on federal and state funding to serve their clients could be mandated by state and federal governments to conduct background screening. Specifically, those providing day care or child care services, or that bring employees or volunteers into contact with minors or vulnerable adults, are typically required to perform background checks on all employees and volunteers.

In addition, federal programs or those with federal contracts are required to conduct criminal background checks on both employees and volunteers. The same is often true in some states, if any state funds are used by the organization.

Any NPO that plans to conduct background checks must notify the potential volunteer and obtain written consent by way of a signature on a notification page. It’s easy enough to add this document to a volunteer application.

Whether it’s mandated or not, it’s just good practice to conduct background checks on potential volunteers. Why not take this easy step to protect your staff, clients and other volunteers from potential danger of an unknown volunteer’s unknown problems?