Background Checks for Nonprofits: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

You Can't Afford NOT to Screen Your Volunteers & Workers

Nonprofits and charitable organizations are focused on doing good in the world, which is why we all feel the pain more acutely when stories break about corruption or abuse within their ranks. 

Consider this headline "Boy Scouts resisted background checks on leaders" and this key snippet from the accompanying story: "While touting their efforts to protect children, the Scouts for years resisted one of the most basic tools for preventing abuse. As a result, the organization let in hundreds of men with criminal histories of child molestation, many of whom went on to abuse more children, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of the Scouts' confidential abuse files." 

The article goes on to say that "Scouting did not require criminal background checks for all volunteers until 2008 despite calls from parents and staff who said its vetting system didn't work." 

Of course, many nonprofits, especially smaller ones, run on shoestring budgets. Money for perceived extras can be hard to find, or fund through grants. But background checks for nonprofits should always be viewed as an essential component, not a "nice to have" luxury. 

Below, we're going to discuss the following: 

  • Why you shouldn't skip or skimp on background checks for your nonprofit 
  • Why you shouldn't use cheap “instant” background checks advertised online 
  • Why you should ask for customization when working with a background check vendor 
  • Why you should work with only one background check vendor  
  • Why you should choose Good Egg as your go-to background check company for nonprofits 

1. Why you shouldn't skip or skimp on background checks for your nonprofit.

We get that your annual budget is tight. We also understand that you don't want to alienate volunteers who might not understand the background check process—or why they're necessary.

But background checks for nonprofits protect everyone.  

  • They protect the people you're serving. Nonprofits often serve at-risk populations, like children, the elderly, refugees, or people who are survivors of violence. Screening anyone who works with these demographics is the right thing to do.  
  • They protect other volunteers. Just as employees have the right to work in a safe, non-toxic environment, so do volunteers. And if a prospective volunteer isn't comfortable being screened, they have the right to refuse, just as prospective employees do. But your organization also has the right to reject the volunteer as a result.  
  • They protect the integrity of your organization and its mission. Think of the reputational damage to the Boy Scouts of America and the broken trust with the public, donors, and scouts and leaders alike.  

Remember that 70 to 100 million Americans have some type of criminal record, according to The Sentencing Project. That's one in three Americans! Of course, not all records are for violent crimes or the type of things that would or should necessarily preclude someone from volunteering for your organization. But shouldn't you and your team be the ones to make that call? Of course, you should. 

Bottom line: You can't afford NOT to run background checks. You also can't afford to make poor decisions when it comes to background check services for nonprofits, which brings us to our next point.

2. Why you shouldn't use cheap "instant" criminal background checks advertised online.

The problem? These checks pull from a nationwide database that is a compilation of information from various sources, including county and state criminal history repositories, department of correction records, and state sex offender registries. The frequency of the database updates is not readily known, and data is not considered a primary source. 

Reputable vendors, like Good Egg, will use the nationwide database as a starting point. We always validate any reportable criminal history information found that closely matches the candidate's name and personally identifiable information (PII) at the primary source—in other words, by processing a county criminal search—to determine if the information is reportable to our client.

Those instant online checks don't take this important step, which means you're not only wasting money, but you're also making decisions about volunteers based on potentially false or incomplete information. 

And let's not forget about compliance. Just because you're a nonprofit, don't think for a second you get a free pass when it comes to getting proper authorizations. Your volunteers and workers have rights and are protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Doing things online through these cheap "solutions" could cause your organization expensive legal problems down the line. 

Another thing to remember is that not all criminal background checks, even among screening companies, are created equal. 

The most common background check consists of criminal history searches in counties where a candidate has lived in the past seven years. These county searches are often supplemented with a nationwide criminal history database search, which provides a quick, affordable method to search for criminal history information that may be recorded in jurisdictions outside the candidate's address history.

The scope of a criminal background check can be adjusted based on your requirements, including the expansion of the address history from seven to 10 years; the inclusion of address history for locations where a candidate has worked or attended school; and the addition of searches, such as federal criminal, sex offender database, and/or sanction searches. 

We always recommend including searches of the national sex offender database—but it's worth noting this isn't "automatic." You need to specifically ask for this to be included. And it's also worth noting that states have their own registries, which are also worth searching. 

Is your head spinning? This is a good example of why you need to work with a reputable screening partner who can guide your team and board through the process. (Read more about how background checks work.) 

3. Why you should ask for customization for your background checks for nonprofits. 

Many vendors sell pre-existing background check packages, like bronze, silver, and gold (or something equivalent). They market it as convenient for you. The problem? You might end up paying for checks you don't need. Or you might end up in a package that doesn't give you complete coverage. In other words, the so-called convenience only exists for the screening vendor, not you. 

Instead, look for a background check vendor who'll create a custom screening package—or packages—based on your nonprofit's specific needs, not on what it needs to sell in order to make sales quotas. 

Remember, you'll likely need different background checks for different roles. For example, a front office administrator who is focused on answering the phone won't need an MVR check. But someone who is responsible for delivering food or driving students will. (You should also consider MVR monitoring in that case.) 

4. Why you should only work with one background check company (provided they offer compliant, comprehensive, and customized packages).

A good background check vendor should be able to manage all the screenings you could possibly need for your nonprofit:  

When you use one vendor for a certain set of checks and another vendor for others—or if different people in your organization are using different vendors—you're making things much more complicated and costly. 

By having everything go through ONE background check company, you'll get the most streamlined and cost-effective program (provided you follow our other advice above). 

5. Why you should choose Good Egg as your go-to background check company.

Good Egg is a small company that is focused on customer service, so we can appreciate your concerns about costs and what it means for your team. But as we showed you above, your organization can't afford to accept volunteers with no verified information about their history. 

While most people who want to volunteer for nonprofits have good intentions and decent-enough backgrounds, what about the bad actors? What about the person who targets your nonprofit because it's small and because of the population it serves—and because it doesn't check their background at all? 

We're passionate about the work you do. We want to see you succeed and strengthen your community. This is why we will work with you to create a custom background check program for your nonprofit that makes sense for your employees, your volunteers, and your budget. Plus, like our corporate clients, you'll have your own dedicated account manager who'll hold your hand every step of the way. This person will feel like an extension of your organization. 

Of course, it's easy for us to wax poetic about how hard we work for our clients, including nonprofits and charitable organizations. The real proof is in other people's experiences with us. Read this case study about our work with  Indiana Mentor, which helps vulnerable populations thrive by offering home- and community-based assistance. And check out what other people have to say about us on Trustpilot. 

Then, get in touch and let's chat about how we can create a cost-effective background check program for your organization. 

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Mariah Barr

Posted by Mariah Barr

Mariah Barr is the Content Marketing Writer at Good Egg. She's played a few roles in her professional life, but they’ve always involved writing interesting and informative pieces. Outside of work you can find her walking her dog or working on a DIY home improvement project.

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