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Six Critical Screening Best Practices for Nonprofit Organizations

By April 1, 2021April 21st, 2021Blog, Newsletter

In today’s world, unfortunate events are occurring globally, nationally, and also taking place much too frequently in our own local communities due to the political climate and the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, organizations have been challenged to re-evaluate their internal operations and policies, including the restructuring of roles, and reassessment of volunteer and staff positions to adapt to the “new normal,” but more importantly confirm their commitment to overall safety and maintain the integrity of their organization.

To help protect all the people who serve and who are being served by your organization, including all volunteers who are part of helping to fulfill your mission, the following are 6 recommended, key screening best practices that are advised to organizations within the nonprofit and service sectors.

1. Screen Everyone

Staff, volunteers, board members, and even visitors (when applicable), should all be screened. In fact, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) survey, one-third of U.S. adults has an arrest or conviction record. We also learned from Sterling Volunteers’ 2020 Industry Insights Research report, that 42% of organizations are not screening all volunteers. We have witnessed time and time again from national headlines that even the most trusted people can end up being the ones who commit crimes – not screening everyone means you are risking your organization’s overall safety.

2. Ask Key Questions: Understand what is in your Background Check!

To better understand what you are actually receiving in your background searches, and to avoid running low-grade, high-risk, instant checks, there are key questions you should ask of your screening provider to ensure you have a quality, Federal Credit Report Act (FCRA) compliant screening program in place:

  • Are multiple sources being checked for a quality, compliant background check? Be sure not to rely too heavily on one source of information.
  • Is the DOJ’s National Sex Offender registry (NSOPW) really being checked versus a national database? Understand the verbiage and confirm you are checking the NSOPW.
  • What jurisdictions does your database cover in my region, specifically my county and state?
  • Is the primary source, the courthouse, being checked? This is at the core of safe screening.
  • Are my results compliant with the FCRA? This is crucial.

3. Rescreen Annually

Once you have initially screened your staff and volunteers, it should not be assumed that it means they are clear of criminal history forever. While we like to think those dedicated to freely serving others have a squeaky-clean image, we need to think again. We also understand it can be difficult to rescreen staff regularly due to budget constraints, but screening volunteers should be a requirement to ensure the organization has the latest information about their potential criminal history. As a best practice, Sterling Volunteers recommends rescreening volunteers on an annual basis.

4. Identify Other Areas that are Vulnerable

If you are serving a vulnerable population, safety is clearly paramount, yet it may not be your only vulnerability. Any individual who handles finances, personally identifiable information (PII), or technology, or who makes important decisions on behalf of your organization should be screened. Implementing a quality background screening program not only helps to protect vulnerable populations, but also safeguards your staff, volunteers, contractors, visitors, as well as your organizations’ assets and reputation.

5. Don’t Over-Rely on Fingerprint Checks

If you are under a policy that requires a biometric fingerprint check, you should consider supplementing with additional name-based searches for the highest quality check. The reason is fingerprint checks probe the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) which is based on voluntary submission of records by each state. Moreover, the NCIC is an aggregated repository with some inaccuracies. Records can be flawed, inaccurate, and missing critical information. It is also not considered a primary source for criminal records such as a county courthouse or federal district courthouse. By supplementing a fingerprint check with other fundamental checks, such as layering over a DOJ NSOPW check, will help contribute to a more robust background check.

6. Be Transparent. Have a Policy, Publicize it, and Audit Annually

Establish a written, formally approved background screening policy that clearly covers gaps and outlines the necessary requirements for volunteers’ eligibility to serve your organization. For transparency, your policy should be posted online on your website so that everyone – your board, staff, volunteers, and the general public have access to view it. You should also plan to conduct a policy audit every year to be sure your policies are current and being followed, and that your practices are adequate and meet any state mandates of where you operate in. This will help support your overall commitment to security.

Join our mission to help create safer work and volunteer environments by identifying if your background screening policy and procedures have a quality solution in place. As an organization, you can do your part by fine-tuning your internal operations, including revisiting your background screening policy, and implementing the above mentioned best practices to help mitigate internal and external risks. This will ensure that each and every one in your organization is practicing safety and is serving with honesty and compliancy.


This article is provided by our friends at Sterling Volunteers. Customers of 501(c) Services benefit from the background screening services of Sterling Volunteers.

Please note: Neither 501(c) Services nor Sterling are a law firm. The material available in this publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal counsel to obtain a legal opinion specific to your needs.

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