Imagine this: You interview a potential volunteer. They are excited, they care about your cause, and they seem like they are the perfect fit for a position with your organization.  Then – through their own admission or through a volunteer background check – it is revealed that they had a run-in with the law at some point in the past. In every other way, the volunteer candidate shines. You might be tempted to ignore the information and bring the volunteer onboard anyway. Here are a few reasons you should carefully consider your options before you make that decision.

1. You need to protect your organization – including all volunteers and paid staff.

Many offenses, especially those involving acts of violence, can affect the safety of your organization’s staff and volunteers.  Review background checks carefully. It’s true that not everyone will repeat previous offenses, but those offenses could be a predictor of future behaviors.  Make sure you are not opening the door for a volunteer to cause harm to your staff members. 

2. A volunteer’s criminal background can have an impact on those you serve.

Volunteer positions that require a volunteer to be in contact with your constituents – especially vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and the disabled should not be filled by someone who has been convicted of a crime involving violent behavior, abuse of others, fraud, theft or other acts of dishonesty. 

3. A criminal background check is critical when it comes to safeguarding your organization.

In the event that a volunteer with a criminal background engages in illegal activity while on duty as a volunteer, your organization can suffer direct damage in the form of injuries or financial harm. You also open your organization up to lawsuits because you brought the volunteer onboard with full knowledge of his or her criminal history. 

4. A history of criminal convictions can reveal the character of a potential volunteer.

Often, criminal histories can serve as an indication of the personality and temperament of your volunteer candidate. Some types of crimes show that a potential volunteer has no respect for authority or doesn’t know how to follow the rules. The volunteer might not resort to criminal behavior while volunteering, threaten the safety of your staff, or put your vulnerable populations and other constituents at risk. Still, the person may be insubordinate or disrespectful – and you don’t want that kind of player on your team.

5. Not all criminal records should disqualify a volunteer candidate.

It is vital that you look into a potential volunteer’s criminal past as part of the recruiting and onboarding process. Perhaps more importantly, you must remember that happening across a criminal record doesn’t mean you should immediately disqualify your volunteer candidate. Know the state and federal laws – and put the appropriate procedures in place to ensure your screening program is in compliance with them. 


At the end of the day, your volunteer candidate might be a great fit for a position with your organization. Consider each candidate as an individual. Review the background check, pay attention to and abide by the laws, and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.


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