To Background Check or Not Background Check Volunteers

There’s no standard policy for nonprofits regarding background checks for volunteers. Volunteers who assist with the Bluff Park clean up or stuffing envelopes and packing food boxes probably don’t need a background check but those working with children (i.e. childcare, summer camp) should.

Each organization needs to determine a policy that best suits their mission then draft policies and procedures for background checks.

If volunteers work in the following areas, the organization should consider conducting background checks:
  • Working with vulnerable populations – children, elderly and individuals with disabilities.1
  • Legal reasons – To protect the nonprofit from potential legal issues when providing volunteers for an event/service.2
  • Any service provided that requires licensing – such as family daycare, child placement, children’s residential camps, neighborhood youth organizations.3
  • Organizations (who use volunteers) providing assisted living, home care, transportation services and EMS services.
  • Those organizations who work with children generally require Board members to undergo the same background checks as their volunteers.4
  • Colorado’s Domestic Violence Program requires that organizations (providing services related to domestic violence) have a written policy requiring criminal and child abuse registry checks if the employee or volunteer is working with children or youth.  (https://bha.colorado.gov)
  • It can potentially ensure a safer working environment, possibly mitigate potential lawsuits and help put a volunteer in the right volunteer position.
  • Show volunteers that their positions are valued.5
  • It also shows the community that an organization takes safety seriously.6
  • Consider background checks for those individuals who will have access to funds, which is often the case with smaller working boards.7

There are different types of checks. An organization needs to determine what type of background check they need to limit their liability risk.

There are checks for driving records, child abuse registry, sex offender registry, criminal records checks (national and statewide), drug screenings and credit checks.

  • Motor Vehicle record checks involve checking for traffic tickets, DUI and DUS (driving under the influence, driving under suspension), etc. which is valuable for organizations with transportation and EMS/Fire services to limit their liability and obtain insurance.
  • Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can do a name check which will scan for Colorado criminal history only.
  • Fingerprint background checks are the highest level of screening and can also include a nationwide check for criminal history.
  • Note: Criminal history checks generally do not include credit checks.
  • A Child Abuse Registry check here in Colorado will only check child abuse findings in the state of Colorado.
  • “Nonprofit or volunteer organizations providing care (or care placement services) to any child, elderly person or person with disabilities can obtain access to fingerprint-based criminal history checks for their staff under the Volunteer Employee Criminal History Services Program (VECHS).” https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeprof/vechs
  • Determine the background check(s) best suited for your organization and create a policy. “Begin with the approach that the nonprofit only needs access to the information that will help assess if a volunteer is safe and qualified.”8
  • Advise your volunteers as soon as they start your onboarding process that there’s a requirement for a background check.
  • Advertising the background check requirement can be part of an organization’s recruiting process.
  • Permission must be obtained, in writing – perhaps on a form, from the volunteer before a background check is performed.
  • Note: In case an organization has a volunteer application: Colorado’s “Ban the Box law (CRS8-2-230) prohibits organizations from advertising that they will not hire applicants with criminal records or inquire about criminal history on a printed or electronic application. Organizations cannot have a checkbox that asks, “Do you have a criminal history?”.
  • Results of a background check will be sent to the requesting organization.
  • If criminal history is obtained on a prospective volunteer, only those in an organization that need the information should have access to the criminal history.
  • The criminal history record is not public information.
  • Create a procedure for keeping criminal history records under lock and key and have a process to destroy information that is no longer needed.
  • Ideally the organization pays for the background check.
  • Try to create a small fund for background checks.
  • Organizations with tight budgets could potentially share the cost with the volunteer.
  • An organization could have the volunteer pay for the background check but it might not be looked upon positively by volunteers.
  • Do not rely on “free” personal checks by searching using Google or social media. The results frequently cannot be verified. Your organization could also be accused of breaching a person’s privacy should you obtain information from social media.9
  • Colorado Bureau of Investigation does criminal background checks. There are two fingerprinting locations in Canon City. A Volunteer Criminal History Service fee is $33.50. Go to https://coloradofingerprinting.com for more information on setting up an account and locations.
  • Colorado Department of Human Services Background Investigation Unit has a form that will generate a child abuse and neglect registry check for the State of Colorado. https://cdec.colorado.gov/background-checks
  • Some examples of vendors who will do volunteer screenings (Note: Wet Mountain Valley Community Foundation does not endorse product or service from any vendor mentioned on its website). Sterling Volunteers at https://sterlingvolunteers.com, Checkr at https://checkr.com.
  • Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles – Your organization can request that a prospective volunteer provide a current driving record from Colorado DMV.
  • Determine if your nonprofit environment is one that requires background checks or if conducting background checks is a best practice.
  • Are you serving any vulnerable populations – children, disabled, elderly?
  • Do you have volunteers or Board members who have access to funds.  It would be a best practice to have background checks conducted in this case.
  • Decide what you want to learn about your volunteers. 
  • Are there circumstances that your organization can’t accept?  For instance, if you provide transportation services you could not approve a volunteer who had their driver’s license suspended or was recently arrested for DUI.
  • Learn more about developing policy and where to obtain background checks at this TrackIt Forward article on Instilling Volunteer Background Checks in Your Nonprofit.

References:

Considerations for Doing Background Checks: https://www.nonprofitpro.com/post/what-you-need-to-consider-during-background-checks-for-nonprofit-volunteers/

IncheckSolutions – Volunteer Background Checks – https://www.inchecksolutions.com/blog/frequently-asked-questions-regarding-volunteer-background-checks/

How to Instill Volunteer Background Checks in Your Nonprofit: https://www.trackitforward.com/content/how-instill-volunteer-background-checks-your-nonprofit

Colorado General Assembly SB19-177 – Background checks persons who work with children:
https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb19-177

Colorado Dept. of Education – Volunteer Employee Criminal History Services Program (VECHS)
https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeprof/vechs

The Wet Mountain Valley Community Foundation does not endorse any product or services provided by vendors who are mentioned in this website.

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