As companies are increasingly drawing on their employee volunteer programs to augment their philanthropy and community outreach, they are bumping up against another trend in the sector: Nonprofits are ratcheting up their volunteer screening requirements, for a variety of reasons, leaving some corporate giving departments wondering what their role should be in the process.
Corporate Philanthropy Report recently spoke with Katie Zwetzig, executive director of background screening company Verified Volunteers, to see how these two trends intersect, and the impact they will have on corporate volunteerism.
Q: How common is it for nonprofits to screen their volunteers? How about from corporate employee volunteer programs?
A: About 80 percent of organizations screen their volunteers, up from about 60 percent three years ago. Our 2016 Research Report shows 57 percent of the responding organizations screen all of their volunteers. Contrast this to employee programs where 80–90 percent are screened.
Q: It seems it is becoming more commonplace. What is driving the increase?
A: Organizations are more savvy and their employees are better educated around risks, program management and best practices. We also see that insurance companies often require some level of screening. Additionally, technical advances have made screening less cumbersome for organizations.
Q: Is there any evidence that screening can turn people off to volunteering?
A: Our experience is that volunteers expect to be screened, and expect those that they volunteer with to be screened. Occasionally we hear about organizations that want to implement a screening program and are concerned about going back and screening current volunteers. That becomes a culture issue.
Our experience within the CSR model is that the organization will drive the type of check required, not the corporate program.
Volunteers have mentioned that they are frustrated with multiple screens—one for their church, one for their school, for instance—which is why they love the portability of our check.
Q: Regarding corporate employee volunteer programs and their nonprofit partners, who should be responsible for the screening? The company or the nonprofit?
A: Today, the organizations have the burden of ensuring a safe environment for their stakeholders, as it is their program and reputation. We do see some really great collaborations where a corporate partner will pay for the checks. We are starting to see more of that as corporations improve their engagement programs. These corporations realize that criminal activity can happen after the original hire date and that screening prior to sending an employee out to volunteer in the community is critical.
We also see interest in our portable check from corporations who want to send a clear message to their new hires about their focus on community engagement. Welcoming a new employee and providing them a background check that they can share with an unlimited number of nonprofits (we call it the Volunteer Fast Pass) sends a strong message. This is the mission of Verified Volunteers—to build communities of vetted volunteers and reduce the time and cost in multiple screenings.
Q: What is the best screening system (or combination of systems) to use?
A: The best screening uses a multitude of products that search criminal records and sex offender registries and use a number of locator tools to find geographies where the volunteer lived, worked and played. Position-specific products like driving records, abuse registries and references should also be added. Our recommendation is to do as much as you can given budget and time restraints. Relative to systems and processes, organizations need to be sure that their processes are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act as well as any other federal or state laws. A good screening partner can help ensure compliance and should work closely with the organization to educate the organization on the various laws and responsibilities.
While the screening process should be streamlined and user-friendly, we recommend that organizations not make it too simple. The volunteer should have some skin in the game. Organizations we work with tell us that when that is the case, the volunteers are more committed.
Q: What are the benefits of outsourcing this task to a third party, as opposed to trying to do it in-house?
A: As mentioned above, a strong screening partner will understand the laws and regulations of an organization given their geography and the population they serve. Outsourcing takes a large part of the burden off the organization and certainly can provide peace of mind. Third-party screeners can often provide results in a more cost-effective way as well, due to lower pricing (economies of scale), streamlined systems and lower administrative charges.
Criminal records are not easy to understand, and terminology varies state by state. The burden of understanding a report, making certain that the report ties to the volunteer in question (think common names) and making the correct decision on the volunteer based on the report falls solely on the organization when a third party is not involved. This increases the risk of a lawsuit, volunteer frustration and lost donations if the organization does not adjudicate correctly.
For more information on screening options, Zwetzig can be reached at Verified Volunteers at (855) 326-1860, or visit the company’s website at http://www.verifiedvolunteers.com.