The Big ‘Screen’ – Volunteer Perspectives on Background Checks

Article by Katie Zwetzig, Executive Director at Sterling Volunteers and originally posted to their blog on October 4th, 2019.

Volunteer background screening  should play an important role in a volunteering program. It  can protect your staff, your volunteers, the people your program is helping, and can keep communities safer. Sterling Volunteers helps organizations run background screening programs simply, quickly, and cost-efficiently– but it’s also important to consider how those background screening programs affect a volunteer’s experience. Here, we explore that question.

In the fall of last year, we conducted a survey, asking more than 7,000 volunteers, who they are and how they like to volunteer. After conducting the research, we put together a report, The Volunteer Perspective – Industry Insights 2019.  

What do volunteers really think about background checks?

When we analyzed the survey findings, we found that some volunteers actually prefer to volunteer with organizations that run background checks – around half of the 7,215 respondents we surveyed said that background checks have a positive impact on their volunteering experience. This suggests that many volunteers prefer giving their time to an organization that is taking proactive measures to keep everyone safe.

We also found that very few volunteers said they’re firmly against background screening when asked for their opinion. In fact, only 5 % of respondents said that a background check negatively affects how they feel about volunteering. Perhaps with more education about  the values of background screening and how it can make volunteer programs stronger, the 5% would come onboard.

Volunteers had the opportunity to anonymously offer their opinions, as well.

“I understand the importance of some organizations needing or requiring a background check and I see no problem with this at all.”

“I strongly believe in background checks when volunteering for organizations with people who are in vulnerable situations…”

“I believe background checks are important [for] children, other volunteers, etc.”

Volunteers are genuine in their beliefs on this issue – 65% of those who say screening has a positive impact on their decision to volunteer also say they aren’t concerned about undergoing background checks, as long as their data is secure. When it comes to background screening, volunteers walk the talk (and if we know anything about volunteering, that “walk” is a 5K!).

A collective concern for volunteers is sharing their social security number. Good news is, they don’t necessarily have to.

Among the minority who have concerns about background checks, 63% of volunteers said that sharing their social security number was their primary concern. In fact, it was the most popular opinion among the open-ended responses.

“I don’t like giving out my social security number to people I don’t know.”

“I like background checks. But with so much identity theft in this day [and] age, I will not give anyone my social security number.”

However, the records that Sterling Volunteers searches are filed by name, not social security number. We only request social security numbers when organizations need us to run what’s known as a “Social Security Trace.” This check provides a volunteer’s address history over the last seven years and may be needed, or even required, by an organization before onboarding a volunteer.

Volunteers have an interest in owning their own set of digital credentials, which verifies their background check and more.

Survey respondents were introduced to the idea of a digital credential that would prove their identity, verify background check history, track training and hours, and allow them to check in at volunteer locations. Over 60% of volunteers expressed interest in a shareable volunteer-focused credential.

We also asked volunteers on owning about their feeling on own portable background check – more than 50% of respondents expressed interest. This portable background check would empower volunteers to own their background check and share it with volunteer organizations, rather than undergoing a background check each time they volunteer for a new cause. We then asked volunteers what they would be willing to pay, and the average amount noted was $11. 

Volunteers had the opportunity to share their thoughts and interest on portable background checks in an open comment box:

“I would pay for a credible and reliable portable background check.”

“It would have to be able to be broadly shared to many other organizations.”

“If it would save time/money for the organizations where I volunteer [I’m interested].”

Get More Volunteers  Insights

Stay tuned to Sterling’s blog for more insights into the “Volunteer Perspective – Industry Insights 2019” report. Read the full report here.

Connect with Sterling Volunteers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Learn more about integrated background checks in volunteer management software.

The information contained herein is for informational purposes only.  Sterling is not a law firm, and none of the information contained in this notice is intended as legal advice.

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