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Volunteer Screening: Guide to Volunteer Background Checks

This guide covers the basics of volunteer screening and volunteer background checks.
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Recruiting volunteers is a very similar process to hiring new employees. Both tasks involve finding suitable candidates to fulfill an organization’s needs. And both processes require screening applicants’ backgrounds to maintain the safety of your community.

Volunteer screening and background checks help identify red flags in volunteers’ backgrounds before bringing recruits into your organization. By screening prospective volunteers, you can not only create a secure environment for all current volunteers, staff and community members but also use the process to match your volunteers with the tasks most suitable for them.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the volunteer screening and background check process, including:

Even if volunteer screening isn’t required by law in your region or state, incorporating background checks into your volunteer recruitment process can effectively reduce risks and enhance your organization’s reputation. Let’s start by reviewing other benefits of running volunteer background checks.

Why do nonprofits run volunteer background checks?

Your organization might choose to conduct background checks and volunteer screenings for several reasons:

  • Protect vulnerable populations. If your organization works with vulnerable groups such as children, older people or people with disabilities, running volunteer background checks is an effective way to keep these populations safe.
  • Keep community members and volunteers safe. Conducting thorough volunteer screening can also keep current volunteers, staff members and community members safe and help them feel more comfortable participating in your programs.
  • Comply with legal requirements. Check your country’s or state’s relevant background check laws to understand what your organization must do to comply with regulations. Determine whether you need to run state and/or national background checks. Consider the populations your organization works with to determine how in-depth your background checks should be.

No matter why you’re conducting volunteer screening, create a standardized process for all applicants to ensure fairness, eliminate bias and allow your staff to use the same procedures every time. Let’s take a closer look at what volunteer background checks screen for.

What do volunteer background checks look for?

These are the most common records volunteer background checks assess:

  • Driving records: If volunteers need to operate a vehicle on behalf of your organization, you’ll want to ensure they have a clean driving record.
  • Criminal background check: This screens for felony and misdemeanor convictions, pending charges, date of conviction, and sentencing information.
  • Sex offender database: If your volunteers work with vulnerable groups like children, you can use the National Sex Offender Public Website to screen volunteer applicants.
  • Drug screening: You may decide to require volunteers to pass a drug test or screen applicants for drug-related offenses.
  • Social media presence: Volunteers are the face of your organization and their social media presence can reflect upon your nonprofit. If you’re recruiting volunteers for digital-first roles, such as advocacy work, you can screen their social media profiles to ensure the content is appropriate for your audience.
  • Employment or education verification: If your volunteer position requires applicants to work in a particular field or degree, you can use employment and education checks to verify their status.

Determine what types of background checks to run based on the nature of your volunteer work and any relevant regulations.

Steps of the volunteer screening process

You should begin thinking about the volunteer screening process even before you start recruiting volunteers. Being thoughtful during the recruitment process will allow you to recruit the right volunteers who will push your mission forward.

Here are the steps of the volunteer screening process:

These are the steps of the volunteer screening process, outlined in the text below.

  • Define your needs. Determine how many volunteers you need to fulfill your organization’s needs and what types of roles they will take on. Are you seeking volunteers in a community-facing role, such as with your afterschool youth program or tutoring service? Or will volunteers take a more behind-the-scenes approach and help with an ongoing construction project or food-sorting task? Also, determine if you’re looking for volunteers with specific educational backgrounds or skill sets.
  • Recruit volunteers. Use your marketing platforms, such as your website, social media pages and email newsletters, to promote your open volunteer roles. Make sure volunteers know that their applications are pending a background check.
  • Conduct background checks. Determine the criteria to screen for and run background checks promptly to keep volunteers moving through the recruitment process.
  • Hold interviews (if necessary). Some volunteer roles might be more involved and require a one-on-one interview. Prepare a list of questions beforehand to assess each candidate’s qualifications. In addition, ask questions that help determine whether someone would be a good fit for your nonprofit’s culture. Ask them what their passions or working style are like.
  • Assign shifts. After completing the screening process, start scheduling volunteers who pass the background check. You can suggest roles that appeal to the volunteers’ interests outlined during the recruitment and interview process.

Remember, volunteer screening isn’t just a one-time process; re-running background checks every two to five years is generally recommended. This keeps your records updated and allows you to adapt your approach to stay updated with industry best practices.

Best practices for successful volunteer screening

Managing background checks should be a smooth process for your team and volunteers. Use these tips to optimize your volunteer screening policies:

  • Be transparent about your process. Let volunteers know why you conduct background checks and what you’re screening them for. Make your background check policy available on your website for prospective volunteers to review.
  • Choose a reputable background check service. Sterling Volunteers, Background Checks for Volunteers, and Checkr are popular background check services offering packages tailored to nonprofit and volunteer program needs. Using one of these platforms can help streamline the process to keep candidates moving as quickly as possible through the screening procedures.
  • Use your volunteer management software to track where volunteers are in the screening process. Track which volunteers have been approved, who is still waiting for approval and who didn’t pass the screening. Send automated messages via email or your volunteer app to let volunteers know whether they passed the background check and when they are approved to begin signing up for shifts.
  • Let volunteers know if they’ve failed a background check and the reasons why. Also, let them know the steps they can take (if any) to pass the screening in the future should they wish to reapply.

Creating a simple, positive screening process for volunteers starts your relationships off on the right foot.

Wrapping up

A thorough volunteer screening process allows your nonprofit to recruit the best volunteers for each role and maintain a safe environment for all program participants.

Using robust volunteer management software like Bloomerang helps simplify screening and scheduling, quickly moving volunteers through the process and getting them up and running in their roles.

Looking for more best practices and tips for better volunteer management? Start with these additional resources:

Click here to learn how Bloomerang's volunteer management software simplifies volunteer screening.

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