The following article was originally posted on the GuideStar Trust blog. Click here to read the original post.

When Alex first arrived at the local nursing home, he appeared like any other eager volunteer. He was well dressed, well groomed, and seemed to have a reputable family life. Everything seemed normal.

As weeks went by, a few seniors at the facility became increasingly uncomfortable with Alex being around. Eventually, one senior came forth with allegations of misconduct. Alex acted horrified by the accusation and denied any wrongdoing.

You Don’t Want to Be In This Place

After an extensive and costly investigation, the facility faced lawsuits, emotionally distressed residents, and a serious PR problem. Of course, Alex was dismissed immediately, but the damage had already been done. It was uncovered later that Alex had a history of misconduct, but no one had looked into his background. No attempt had ever been made to protect the patrons of the nursing home.

The Cost of NOT Screening Your Volunteers

In an era when employment background screening is becoming increasingly important, so too is volunteer background screening. Thanks to advancements in technology, nonprofit organizations are now able to work with reputable screening companies at a fraction of the cost. In many cases it is more affordable, intuitive and accessible than ever before. When you consider that nonprofits can be held liable (facing the same damaging legal and financial consequences as for-profits) for consequences due to background checks not being conducted, many organizations have realized the cost to NOT screen is greater.

Three Reasons Why You Should Screen Your Volunteers

In case you’re still not sold on the concept of screening volunteers, here are three specific reasons why you should. In a nutshell, it all comes down to managing risk for your organization.

1. Volunteers represent your organization to the public, even though they are not paid employees. In the public’s mind, volunteers fully represent your nonprofit. In some cases, your constituency may only interact with volunteers. Whether you like it or not, volunteers become the face of your organization. Therefore, your organization must live with the liability of their actions. Just because you are not paying them doesn’t give you a pass.

Conducting thorough background checks on all volunteers is one way to reduce risk, prevent potential issues, and protect your organization’s image.

2. Knowing what volunteers have done (or hopefully not done) affects what they will do for you. It is impossible to know everything about a volunteer’s past. So, is gathering as much background information as possible the way to go? Not really. Most background screening professionals actually recommend collecting the minimum amount of information necessary. Take time to first consider the essential function(s) that will be performed by the volunteer. By evaluating the responsibilities and risks associated with those duties, an organization can identify the most accurate and cost-effective background check for the position. Examples of this include:

  • Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) search – will they be driving an organization-owned vehicle?
  • Education and/or Professional License Verification – will they be teaching a group on a regular basis?
  • Credit Report – will they be handling any cash or checks or have access to your financial records?
  • Criminal Record search – does the volunteer have a criminal record?

I’d like to pause here and offer a few comments about criminal record searches. Searching and reviewing criminal records can be a tricky and time-consuming task. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a national criminal search (contrary to popular belief). However, many reputable screening companies offer access to extensive multi-state / multi-jurisdiction databases, allowing expanded searches and greater piece of mind. It’s important to partner with a background screening company that offers this service.

3. Volunteer background screening reduces your management risk factors. Let’s face it – budgets can be extremely tight. Organizations of all sizes and types can find themselves working with a budget that simply wouldn’t survive a lawsuit. By working with a reputable screening company, and establishing a compliant background screening program, an organization can mitigate its risk in areas such as:

  • Public safety
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • Limitation of liability
  • Facing negligent lawsuits
  • Conditions of doing business
  • Customer assurance
  • Avoidance of loss of business
  • Fear of business loss
  • Public or media backlash due to a related incident

At VolunteerHub, we’re seeing an increased demand among our clients for volunteer screening. This is why we’ve partnered with Trak-1, a leading background screening company. (You can learn more about their services by clicking here.) Regardless the screening company you choose to work with, I’d strongly recommend you find a partner that can offer the criteria outlined in this article. Your constituents – and volunteers – will thank you for it.