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Volunteer Background Checks: A Guide for Social Service Organizations

By Cassandra Steele

Online fundraising and digital marketing communications professional.

Volunteer background checks are an important part of risk management for your social service organization. 

Most volunteers are wonderful people with the best intentions, but incidents happen. Your social service organization needs to do its due diligence to protect your clients and beneficiaries, including keeping good records of volunteer screening information and volunteer background checks.

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This guide to volunteer background checks, includes information on:

  • General volunteer background checks
  • Church volunteer background checks
  • School volunteer background checks
  • Camp background check
  • Youth background checks
  • And more

There’s more to volunteer background checks than just running them. You have to consider the role they play in your volunteer screening and onboarding, when and what level of background check you need, and the best way to securely track and store background checks.

Types of Orgs That Need to Do Volunteer Background Checks

Not every nonprofit organization will need to run volunteer background checks, but if your organization works with vulnerable populations, like children or the elderly, or if your volunteers will be working directly with clients or beneficiaries providing services, you will need to conduct volunteer background checks.

For example, you will need to do:

  • Church volunteer background checks, especially for volunteers who will be working with children
  • School volunteer background checks for volunteers that are assisting with education or recreation programs
  • Camp background checks for volunteer counsellors or other volunteer positions at camps

Volunteer background checks are an important part of risk management for any social service organization where volunteers are coming into contact with clients or beneficiaries.

Volunteer Background Checks & Onboarding

Performing volunteer background checks, police screenings, and criminal record checks should be part of your organization’s onboarding and screening process. 

Using onboarding software like PartnerHR doesn’t just ensure this critical step is completed, but that the background check documents are stored securely where you can access them.  

onboarding-software-background-checks

You can configure your onboarding checklists to include steps that are important to your organization, so the process is standardized and streamlined, and important steps like volunteer background checks are never missed. 

When it comes to risk management, volunteer screening is critical to show you’ve done your due diligence, and you’re going to need to do this in the event of an incident.  

Volunteer background check FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about church volunteer background checks, school volunteer background checks, camp background checks, youth background checks and other types of volunteer background checks. 

This information will help your social service organization form your process and policies around volunteer background checks.

What do volunteer background checks include?

There are different levels of background checks, depending on where your organization is located, that law enforcement can carry out.

For example in Ontario, there are three types of background check that Ontario provincial police can conduct:

  • Criminal record check
  • Criminal record check and judicial matters check
  • Vulnerable sector check
    • This background check may include offences that have been discharged, outstanding charges or warrants, court orders and other criminal information that is not included in regular background checks. A vulnerable sector check is more in-depth as it is specific to volunteers who will be working with vulnerable populations like children.
    • For this reason, churches, schools, camps, youth services, and other organizations who work with children, should definitely include a vulnerable sector check.

As background checks and police departments are locally managed, it’s important that you check your local law enforcement or justice department website to find the volunteer background check information that is applicable to your organization.

It is important to know that volunteer background checks only include a record of convictions, and many offenders have never been convicted of a crime. That’s why your organization’s onboarding process should also include interviews, reference checks, and you should look for any other red flags that may pose a risk to your social service organization.

How long do background checks take?

The time that a volunteer background check can take also depends on your location and the time of year. Background checks can take longer in urban areas where there is a high demand, or in areas where law enforcement lacks resources for running volunteer background checks.

The time can vary from 10 business days to several weeks for a volunteer background check to be processed.

This means it’s important that you submit your volunteer background checks for your church, school, camp, and youth service with plenty of time to process.

How much to volunteer background checks cost?

The cost of a church volunteer background checks will depend on your social service organizations location.

The average cost, in most cases, is $20-25, and may vary depending on the level of criminal background check that is required.

Make sure you include in your policies who is responsible for paying for the volunteer background check. Most social service organizations will choose to take on this cost so there is no cost to the volunteer, who is already giving their time to the organization.

Paying for volunteer background checks does increase the cost of your social service organization’s programming, but the cost is necessary and well worth it for the safety of your clients and beneficiaries, and your organization. It will save you in the long run by managing the risk to your organization if there is an incident involving a volunteer.

Do volunteer background checks expire?

Volunteer background checks don’t necessarily expire, they are valid on the day that they are run. There is always a chance that a volunteer is involved in criminal activity after the background check has been run.

It’s up to your social service organization to set the timeline for when a volunteer will need to have another volunteer background check processed. It’s important to consider risk management when you form this policy, you should consider renewing background checks every one to three years if the volunteer is still working with your organization.

It can be a big challenge to keep track of when volunteer background checks need to be renewed as you may have many volunteers who all started at different times. Then you have staff turnover, how will new staff members know who needs to have their volunteer background check renewed?

With onboarding software like PartnerHR, your social service organization can set volunteer screening processes, build volunteer profiles, and set up reminders to renew volunteer background checks.

How to Store Volunteer Background Checks

When you are storing volunteer background checks, and background checks for staff, there are some important factors you need to consider:

1. Ease of access to your volunteer background checks

Don’t keep these important documents in a storage locker off site, you need to have them readily available in case there is an incident involving a volunteer. Remember for social service organizations, it’s not really a case of whether it will happen, but rather when an incident will occurs. Your organization needs to be prepared to protect itself and its clients and beneficiaries.

2. Volunteer background checks need to be organized and easy to find

If your social service organization is large, you may have many volunteers at one time and throughout your history. You need a system where you can find a specific background check and volunteer file quickly and easily.

3. Paper records take up space in filing cabinets

Your social service organization may not have a large office to store all of your background checks on site.

4. Secure storage is a must for documents that include sensitive and personal information

The best solution for storing volunteer background checks securely, and other important volunteer information, is to use volunteer management and onboarding software, like PartnerHR. It will help with:

  • Storing volunteer background checks and information securely.
  • Keeping volunteer background checks readily available and in a centralized place where multiple people can access them.
  • Saving volunteer background checks and other volunteer information in volunteer profiles so everything is in one place, and saving you space on keeping physical records.
  • Maintaining a high level of security for volunteer information and volunteer background checks.

How long should you keep volunteer background checks?

Here’s what your social service organization needs to know for church volunteer background checks, school volunteer background checks, camp background checks, youth background checks, and general volunteer background checks to inform your process and policies.

Once a volunteer is no longer working with your social service organization, you may think you’re in the clear on keeping their records including their volunteer background check, but you never know when an issue is going to come to light about a volunteer that involves your organization. It could be many years after that volunteer has stopped working with your organization.

We’ve all seen the news stories when someone is convicted of a crime and the reports come out about them being a pillar of the community and involved in charitable work. 

Even if this person hasn’t been involved with your organization for some time, your organization may come under scrutiny. Keeping an archive of volunteer files including background checks will protect your organization. 

Why Volunteer Background Checks Are Important

Volunteer background checks are an important part of the screening and onboarding process for social service organizations because they help manage risk. Risk management is the process of identifying and controlling threats, in this case the threat of a volunteer, or staff member harming one of your organization’s clients or beneficiaries.

Requiring church volunteer background checks, school volunteer background checks, camp volunteer background checks and background checks for other social service volunteer positions helps your organization manage this risk.

Volunteer background checks are important because they:

Protect beneficiaries and clients

The most important reason why schools, churches, and camps require background checks is to protect the vulnerable beneficiaries and clients of these social service organizations

Protect your organization

Unfortunately, it’s not really a question of if an incident will happen, but when. Conducting and filing volunteer background checks will help your organization show that due diligence was conducted in volunteer recruitment.

Protect your volunteers

It’s less obvious how volunteer background checks protect your volunteers, but it can help volunteers feel safe and see that your screening and recruitment process is thorough.

Keeping this archive electronically in onboarding and volunteer management software is a good way to store these documents for the long term securely, without taking up a lot of space. You will always be able to find the files and volunteer background checks you need if, and when, an incident occurs.

Volunteer background checks are an important part of risk management for your social service organization, and protecting your clients and beneficiaries. But background checks are only part of the volunteer onboarding and screening process. 

Nonprofit onboarding and volunteer management software can help. Learn more about how PartnerHR can help your nonprofit social service organization manage volunteers and staff.

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