Navigating Situations Where Would-Be Volunteers Bristle at Volunteer Background Checks

Background checks are commonplace in the employment process, to the point where most people expect them. Job seekers generally understand that if they are expecting an employer to give them a job, put trust in them, and give them a steady paycheck, a background check is part of a good-faith exchange to make that happen. In the case of volunteer background checks, though, there is often more pushback from would-be candidates. Perhaps because volunteer background check policies are more sporadic, or maybe because there is no promise of pay or benefits, prospective volunteers sometimes bristle at the idea of thorough investigations of their past.

A recent example of this phenomenon played out in Douglas County, Nevada. According to The Record Courier, a local newspaper serving the Douglas County region, the county recently took steps to make its policies for volunteer background checks more consistent and extensive. County Manager Patrick Cates told the Record Courier that the changes to policy have compliance with state requirements and overall thoroughness of background checks. However, local volunteer coordinators – particularly those for search and rescue and other emergency response teams – said that the more in-depth background checks had been a deterrent to some volunteers.

For instance, one volunteer leader described Douglas County’s new background check process as having “to open your entire life” to the county’s human resources department to volunteer. “They can ask anybody anything they want about you, and you have no right to see the information they gather,” the volunteer coordinator said, adding that he was “losing team members because of it.”

Others pointed to the issue of fingerprint background checks, which the county requires for youth sports and several other types of volunteers. Since the start of the pandemic, local law enforcement – which is responsible for processing fingerprinting checks – has been dealing with a backlog. As a result, some volunteer background checks can take much longer than anticipated.

For his part, Cates acknowledged “how vital volunteers are to the community” and said he’d take feedback under advisement and meet with Douglas County’s human resources director and the deputy district attorney “to see where we are in current backlogs and what we can do to streamline the process.”

These complaints highlight an important balancing act for volunteer organizations. On the one hand, there is value to streamlining the onboarding process and removing barriers to entry for would-be volunteers – especially in situations where attracting and recruiting volunteers is difficult. On the other hand, thorough and accurate background checks are as important for volunteers as they are for employees. For many organizations that rely on volunteers, those individuals even take on a staff-like role – from managing money to controlling social media pages and other online assets. There needs to be a high level of trust between an organization and its volunteers, just as there needs to be trust between an organization and its employees.

At, we pride ourselves on providing volunteer organizations with smart and accurate background checks that won’t cause inconvenience to volunteers or overstep into their private lives. We can help your organization shape a volunteer background check policy that strikes just the right balance, from criminal background checks to reference checks and beyond. Contact us today to learn more.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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