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Background Screenings for Volunteers

  • July 20, 2023 8:52 AM
    Message # 13230293

    Hello Fellow Volunteer Administrators!

    I am the Volunteer Manager at Portland Japanese Garden and senior staff at my organization have recently inquired about implementing background screening for volunteers. We've done it in the past for particular programs that work with children, but in general, we do not run background screenings on our volunteers. 

    I'm curious to hear your thoughts on implementing this as part of the onboarding process. My general feeling is that it would be a benefit to the organization, however, I wonder if you can share any drawbacks or complications you are aware or have experienced in including background screening in your own programs. 

    I appreciate any advice you can share!

    Thank you,

    Sarah Lynch

  • July 21, 2023 9:23 AM
    Reply # 13230742 on 13230293

    Hi Sarah! At Multnomah County Library we do criminal record checks on volunteers in specific positions. That includes any position that involves interaction with minors, older adults, homebound adults, people with disabilities, and people who speak English as a second language. Also, if the position requires handling financial transactions, community outreach with limited staff supervision, or using a vehicle while volunteering. 

    As far as onboarding goes, we don't have volunteers do the background check until they have met with their staff supervisor to confirm that they will be joining us as a volunteer. We don't want to make people jump through that hoop unless it's needed.

    If a check comes back with something then we compare it to a list of disqualifying convictions along with other factors such as time since the conviction, how old they were at the time, etc. Not all convicitions will automatically disqualify someone. If a volunteer is not able to be placed in a position requiring a background check then they are able to apply for other positions that don't require that level of screening. 

    One thing to consider is looking at the background check policy for paid staff at your organization. Are all staff required to be background checked or only certain positions? Are there convictions that disqualify someone for working there and others that are allowed? Will the policies for paid staff and volunteers match or do paid staff require more stringent protocols based on access to organizational resources?

    Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions. 

  • July 21, 2023 11:05 AM
    Reply # 13230791 on 13230293
    Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hi Sarah!

    I would highly encourage every organization to background check volunteers (and staff). One incident could really hurt the organization, staff, volunteers and community. 

    I agree with everything Liza has said but do want to add that a CON to consider is that background checks may be a barrier to some who want to volunteer. Some agencies i have worked with wanted volunteering to be easy and accessible to all. (thinking of those who don't have SSN, or people who wanted to volunteer NOW and not wait for bgc to be complete).

  • July 30, 2023 10:18 AM
    Reply # 13234142 on 13230293

    Thank you both for your replies! This information is really helpful. 

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