Background Check Volunteer

Background Checks and the Volunteer Workforce

Economic Impact of the Volunteer

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, nearly 62.8 million people performed 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service in 2015. This is an estimated value of $184 million to organizations who count on these volunteers to keep costs down.

While most volunteers have only the best intentions in mind, there are unfortunately those who commit crimes against the very organization they are supposed to be helping.

Good Volunteers Gone Bad

In Dunnellon, FL, a 69-year-old church volunteer stole over $100,000 from a breast cancer charity fund. According to the church, the account which had nearly $112,000, now carries a negative $1,000 balance.

A 22-year-old volunteer at an elementary school in Glenarden, MD was recently arrested for coercing and video taping young students to perform sexual acts on school property.

These are examples of  volunteers gone bad.  While proper background checks can not stop volunteer crimes, it can identify those with a history unsuitable to the volunteer position.

Survey Says

A survey by the National Center for Victims of Crime found that while almost 90 percent of the organizations it questioned did some type of volunteer screening, far less actually ran background checks or called references. Most screening was found to be on an interview-only basis.

Re-screening of volunteers was rarely done by the majority of organizations participating in the survey.

Organizations gave varying reasons for the minimal screening methods including costs, not wanting to offend the volunteer and not believing screening is useful.

Who is Checking What

Organizations with a larger volunteer force were found to have the most thorough screening practices. Only about half of organizations with 10 or less volunteers conducted any type of background check while nearly 70 percent of those with over 50 volunteers performed checks.

Additionally, “direct service” volunteers, or those who have access to sensitive information, were screened more thoroughly than those performing administrative tasks.

How Information is Used

The majority of organizations surveyed by the National Center for Victims of Crime would disqualify a volunteer if convicted of specific crimes, most notably, those pertaining to sex or violence. One in five said that a volunteer would not be disqualified for an arrest only.

Volunteers with child abuse allegations or convictions or those reported for elder abuse were almost always disqualified.

Poor credit was rarely used to disqualify a volunteer.

Best Practices

Volunteers are an integral part of many organizations. There are risks, however, associated with the use of volunteers. If an entity is found liable for a crime committed by an improperly screened volunteer, a costly civil lawsuit can likely be the downfall of the organization.

Consistent and comprehensive background screening on volunteers is imperative, especially for those with access to clients or personal information.

Minimal screening practices should include checking professional and personal references and an in-person interview.  Fingerprinting checks for a national criminal background check should be used when possible. Volunteers working with children should be subject to additional checks including sex offender database checks in every state the volunteer has resided.

Each organization should develop clear policies of which offenses would disqualify a volunteer and use those standards to determine which background screening techniques should be used.


While every organization wants to have the lowest bottom-line when it comes to costs, skimping on an important aspect like background checks can end up having detrimental effects. Not only can an organization be liable for the volunteer’s offense, but that organization’s name will be dragged through the mud for months or even years.

When considering the use of background checks to qualify volunteers, make sure you are aware of the facets that distinguish one provider from the next. At Sentinel Background Checks, our team has more than three decades of industry experience and is dedicated to providing an unsurpassable level of accuracy, service and attention to our clients. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our many solutions.