Understanding the Need for and Benefits of the Volunteer Background Check

Volunteers form a critical part of the workforce, but they are often overlooked as such because they are not paid employees. However, in many places, volunteers form the backbone of critical services and help to ensure organizations with limited budgets can achieve their missions. Everything from non-profits to schools, churches, and many more rely on volunteers, which raises a critical question. Should a volunteer background check be required in these organizations?

In some places, such rules are enshrined in state or local law. However, there are many places where there are still no such rules. For example, in Michigan, a law now requires schools to use background checks for all on-campus volunteers. Schools may choose to do so, but parents may not always know if their child’s school follows such procedures. Seven Michigan districts said they do use checks, but almost as many didn’t answer questions from reporters.

This story provides an excellent opportunity to consider these vetting processes by exploring the need and benefits they can provide.

Do volunteers really need background checks?

A better question might be, “what could happen without using a background check?” Volunteers typically don’t have access to important business or organizational elements, such as financial systems, but they may interact with others. For example, consider volunteers for weekend church events or those who might volunteer as teacher’s aides.

These individuals are still in a position to do potential harm to those they interact with, such as children and other vulnerable individuals. Violence is a risk. So, too, is theft. While background checks can’t predict future behavior, they help you understand what may be in a volunteer’s past. You can then make a fully-informed assessment about the level of risk they might pose to your organization.

What goes into vetting volunteers?

The process should be mostly the same whether you’re conducting an employee or volunteer check. While you won’t usually need to verify someone’s work history or education, you can use criminal background checks that provide a wide-ranging view of an applicant’s past. This can include state police background checks and multi-jurisdictional database searches, such as the US OneSEARCH.

Is it common for organizations to screen their volunteers?

Absolutely–one of the country’s largest volunteer organizations, Habitat for Humanity, has an extensive fact sheet on their volunteer checks. Habitat for Humanity uses criminal screening, sex offender registry checks, and more to ensure its volunteers can work safely and effectively on projects. The organization even covers the cost of the background check—something others should consider to help improve the number of volunteers willing to go through a few extra steps to help.

Building a safer space for effective work

Ultimately, using a volunteer background check has many more upsides than downsides. While it is an extra step to clearing someone for helping out, it can provide critical information about possible red flags. When you put in the effort to screen actual employees, volunteers should receive the same treatment. With the proper tools and a legally-compliant procedure, you can effectively recruit volunteers and achieve higher trust and confidence.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

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

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