Volunteer Screening: Protecting nonprofit organizations and the people they serve.

Every day, millions of Americans utilize services provided by nonprofits. Without a proper screening program in place, these organizations could be placing their clients (and reputations) in harm’s way. Nonprofit organizations are particularly attractive to predators because of the vulnerable populations they serve.

Having a thorough and comprehensive background check program in place is a key part of protecting an organization, its employees and their clients. AmericanChecked works with hundreds of nonprofit organizations every year to help them establish a solid background screening program. Simply put, background checks identify individuals who have been convicted of offenses who are attempting to gain access to potential victims through volunteer or paid positions.


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The Case for Conducting Background Checks

Many applicants with criminal histories apply for positions in states other than where they were convicted. A review of a major youth sports organization found that out 57,000 background screens, 6,881 came back with “hits.” Out of those hits, nearly 50% were individuals applying outside their state of residence.

Another study found that out of 1.6 million background screens performed over a three year period, 86,000 individuals with undisclosed criminal records applied for work or volunteered in the nonprofit sector. The report indicated that every 43 hours, at least one convicted sex offender tries to attain a position at a nonprofit organization.

Another audit of a national youth-based organization’s applications revealed that out of 1 million applicants screened, 12% had undisclosed criminal records; 740 had sex-related convictions; and 153 had been convicted of murder. The same audit showed the “hit rate” for nonprofit customers was 5%. That statistic means an average of every 100 people screened, five failed to disclose a criminal record.

According to attorney and founding member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), Larry Henry, “volunteer organizations should treat volunteers and paid staff the same. Predators seek out their victims where their victims gather, and many times this is the population the nonprofit is serving. Hiring just one perpetrator who victimizes a client of the nonprofit will destroy that organization not only financially but also as a provider of services. Nonprofit organizations must conduct credible background checks on their employees and volunteers.”

In addition to the intrinsic value background checks have for nonprofits, there can also be unseen benefits of having a solid screening program in place. When organizations advertise they conduct background checks on all personnel and volunteers, those with disqualifying criminal histories tend to not apply.


What You Can Do Now

In addition to industry-specific mandates, a background check should include, at a minimum, a Social Security Number (SSN) track with address locator information. The address information can uncover alias names and previous addresses/places of residence that an applicant might not have disclosed. Address locator information should be used as the guidepost for a live county criminal search that pulls the most accurate and up-to-date information. The alias names should also be run through the nationwide criminal database that searches over 900+ million records of information as well as the multi-state sex and violent offenders report.

Administrators should thoroughly review volunteer background checks, to establish if there is any reason why an applicant should not be permitted to work with the vulnerable populations.

Additionally, even if the criminal checks do not reveal any record, the assumption should not be made that individual is not a risk to the volunteer’s service. Other checks that should be considered include:

Picking a Background Screening Partner

When looking for a provider to conduct background checks for your organization, the checklist below may provide helpful information. There are literally thousands consumer reporting agencies (CRA’s) to choose from, but not all are created equal. Companies that are nationally accredited, like AmericanChecked, have gone above and beyond to prove they adhere to the highest standards of compliance and quality.

A nationally accredited company can advise nonprofit organizations on the best products for their specific organization. This guidance, however, should not be taken as legal advice, but instead a guidepost to protecting your organization, employees and the people you serve.

Choose a provider that:

  • Is Nationally Accredited by NAPBS
  • Is FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) Compliant
    • Onsite Inspections are required
    • A signed contract is required notifying users of their obligations
    • Requires a signed disclosure and authorization BEFORE a search is performed
    • Demonstrates that a Consumer Channel exists for disputes
  • Clearly prices and distinguishes the difference between database vs. court retrieved criminal records
  • Offers current referrals
  • Is clearly aware of state and federal laws



AmericanChecked Inc. is a nationally accredited background screening company providing efficient, paperless employee background check solutions. Decades of experience coupled with state-of-the-art security and technology distinguish AmericanChecked in today’s marketplace. With an A+ BBB rating, AmericanChecked is the winner of: BBB Torch Award, US Chamber of Commerce Blue Ribbon, Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber Crystal Award. For more information, visit www.americanchecked.com.