How Often Should We Run a Criminal Background Check On Volunteers?

I recently had someone ask me how often they should run criminal background checks on volunteers.

Every volunteer should go through a thorough background screening as part of their volunteer application process and rechecked every couple of years.

Gone are the days when background checks were only done on people who work with children.  It is important to know the criminal background of every volunteer in your church.  We know that people can, and do, turn their lives around after they embrace Christian principles.  However, you probably don’t want someone who was convicted of embezzlement counting your weekly offering.

This screening process is important because of the legal risks that now face churches and their responsibility for screening both employees and volunteers.

Every volunteer should go through a thorough background screening as part of their volunteer application process and rechecked every couple of years.These risks have increased as a result of a rising number of litigations involving religious nonprofit organizations.

The good news is technology is improving every day and criminal databases are beginning to cross state lines and states are sharing this information.

While we are not where we need to be, the technology has improved resulting in improved processing times and results.

There are  some vendors that offer updated reports as new information becomes available. Identifying the best screening vendor for your organization may take a little research, but there are many options to choose from.

Even if there is a vendor you are currently using, it is only wisdom to shop them every couple of years. Pricing and products are constantly changing so take some time to ensure you are using the best available vendor.

Your church insurance company can give you a referral for a background check vendor.

 9 Background Check Vendor Considerations

1. Turnaround Time – The last thing you want is to have a volunteer sitting around waiting for this check to come back.  Ask how long it typically takes to get a background check completed and returned. Call a couple of different vendors so you can determine the average turnaround time.

2. Price – Price does matter.  If you are recruiting and processing hundreds of volunteers a year, the background screening can be costly. Ask what the fees are and compare that price with other vendors. Also inquire as to whether there are discounts available for multiple screenings.

3. Information Tracked – The goal of the background check is to learn about the criminal history of a potential volunteer. Ask the vendor how thorough the screening is and what type of information is reported.

4. Reach of Information – We live in mobile society and people move – particularly when they have a past that they want to leave behind. Make sure the information you are paying for includes state, regional and national reporting.

5. Process for Submission – Submitting the background check request should be easy, quick and efficient. Have the vendor walk you through their process to ensure that it doesn’t consume an unnecessary amount of your time.

6. Ease of Use – People don’t take the time to read cluttered reports so make sure the reporting is a tool that you can scan quickly to see results.  Ask for a sample report and determine how easy is it to read and interpret the results.

7. Availability of Updated Information – Even though you should rerun background checks every couple of years, you want to make sure you have access to updated information.  Ask if the vendor provides updated background information as it becomes available.

8. Customer Service – No one likes dealing with a vendor that does not focus on customer service. Ask how the organization responds to customer complaints and what their process is to respond to technical issues.

9. Recommendations From Current Users – Ask the vendor for a list of current clients and their contact information.  Call them and try to find out if they are happy with the product but more importantly, with the service of the vendor.

Background checks are a critical part of the volunteer management process and should be taken seriously to ensure that your organization knows those people who are involved in helping you achieve your mission.

You can access a downloadable background check form here.

How often do you re-screen volunteers?

 photo by:  IKO

Article originally posted November 2012, updated March 2015.

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