According to our Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2016 the majority of organizations screening their volunteers are very or extremely confident in the quality of their checks. But information uncovered on how much they are spending per check (an average of just $14) indicates that they are receiving less than comprehensive background check reports. These organizations are likely operating under a false sense of security – and there is a good chance that they are missing some very significant information that puts their organization at risk.

Are you one of these organizations? Let’s run down a couple of red flags that should prompt you to review your current screening practices.

How much are you spending on your volunteer screening program?

In our survey of more than 350 volunteer organizations, we asked how much programs are spending on their volunteer screening. The majority of organizations spent an average of $15 or less on screening for each of their volunteers in 2014. Only 17.2% spent $31 or more – the price point that indicates a high quality, thorough and up-to-date check is being run.

And what kind of “hit rate” are you seeing?

Our research revealed that 85% of organizations discover a misdemeanor or felony conviction for 2% or fewer of their volunteers.

Although a low hit rate allows you to onboard nearly every volunteer who expresses interest in your organization, it is an indication of a low quality check. As a point of reference, one in ten Americans have some degree of criminal history. You may not be looking in the right places or digging deep enough into your volunteers' criminal history. This isn't always the case, but it's good to explore all avenues with a knowledgeable and reputable screening provider that can make recommendations on how to enhance your screening efforts.

The key takeaway here: a low hit rate isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The bottom line

If you are part of a volunteer organization that spends less than $15 on each volunteer screen and sees less than a 2-3% hit rate, you might be receiving a nationwide or multistate search. 

In our research, we found that a full one-third of organizations were not aware of these types of searches, so if you don’t know what they are, you’re not alone. Interestingly, whether respondents were aware of nationwide/multistate checks or not, they still assumed that they must be accurate, up-to-date and thorough. It’s a common misperception, but unfortunately it is simply not the case. 

There are many instant nationwide and multistate database searches available, and even though some are more thorough than others, none can provide a comprehensive criminal record check. That is not to say that they do not serve a purpose. Nationwide database searches are valuable when used as one component of a criminal record check as they can help identify crimes that occur outside of the volunteer's residential jurisdiction. For example, if a volunteer committed a crime while on vacation or across state lines, the crime may not be uncovered through a traditional search of county courthouses or state repositories. Still, all hits found as part of a nationwide or multistate database search must be validated at the primary source of information (the county or state courthouse).

Organizations knowledgeable about screening will tell you that you cannot be 100% confident in any criminal record check. These organizations also understand that criminal record checks are more comprehensive, accurate, and thorough when they are based on multiple data sources – for example, using a nationwide database to supplement county and state searches.

Be safe rather than sorry – always know what your background check includes – and what it doesn't.

Interested in learning more?
Download the report, Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2016, and learn more about screening and volunteer program trends, insights and best practices.

And watch this webinar: 7 Things You Need to Know About Volunteer Background Checks in 2016.

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