Recently, we presented a webinar around Verified Volunteers’ second annual research study on the state of volunteerism and volunteer screening in America. We discussed key findings, insights, and trends from the report. Toby Chalberg, Chief Digital Officer at Points of Light, joined me on the webinar and had some very interesting thoughts and insights of his own. Here are the 5 insights you need to know.

1. Organizations are engaging more volunteers – but why?

In our survey, we found that the number of organizations engaging more than 50 volunteers has risen from 55% in 2015 to 76% in 2016. We also heard from our survey that 14% of responder organizations plan to increase their volunteer pool by ‘a lot’ next year. At first, this sounds promising for volunteer organizations – more individuals are spending time volunteering!

But, according to Toby, there are very clear trend lines in research like the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys that show volunteer rates are steadily going down. Anecdotally, Points of Light often hears that organizations with majorly volunteer-driven missions struggle with finding and retaining the types of volunteers they need — those willing to make long-term commitments, those who display certain skills, and those who meet certain requirements like the availability to volunteer during work day. This points to an attrition problem—organizations needing to recruit and engage new volunteers to replace those who have lapsed.   

On top of this, the number of organizations using volunteers is increasing as new nonprofits start up. Entrepreneurship in the nonprofit sector is very vibrant—there are very low barriers to entry for someone to begin organizing around a cause—be it a fundraising effort online or a community-based volunteer initiative that doesn't require a 501c3 to get started.   Organizations are being challenged to be creative in how they retain and engage their volunteers given the innovation in the marketplace and demands on peoples’ time. 

Is volunteer recruitment and retention as issue for you? If so, good news. We are hosting a number of webinars next year focusing on volunteer position descriptions, recruitment, cultivation and engagement. We will dive deep into these topics and provide lots of pointers and best practices. Bookmark and occasionally check out Verified Volunteers’ webinar calendar.

2. It’s more important than ever to put a high quality screening program in place – and to stay on top of the FCRA.

A whopping 88% of respondent organizations say they serve vulnerable populations — an 11% increase from 2015.

What does this mean for you, the nonprofit organization? Well, especially if you serve a vulnerable population, you have a legal obligation to make sure that your stakeholders are safe. 

What’s more, volunteers tell us they expect to volunteer in a safe environment and that the volunteer they are standing next to at the food pantry is screened.  The basic legal standard that applies to screening is reasonableness under the circumstances. If a nonprofit's screening process is challenged in court, a judge or jury will evaluate the reasonableness of the process employed, the foreseeability of the risk (whether the organization knew or should have known of the risk of harm), and whether the screening process – or lack of it – caused or contributed to the harm at issue. An opponent may well argue that failing to conduct any screening is unreasonable.

Organizations are also obligated, when working with a third party screening provider, to follow the tenets of the Fair Credit Reporting Act when screening both their employees and volunteers.  Thus, our advice is for nonprofits to make sure they understand and comply with the FCRA.  Certainly we have seen an increase in litigation around FCRA compliance issues in the for-profit world and our legal team believes it is a matter of time before nonprofits will also have lawsuits against them. Also, keep in mind that your screening company can also be sued for compliance violations under the FCRA. In these cases it is because a screening provider did not make reasonable efforts to ensure that the reports that they provided were up-to-date and accurate. So make sure the firm you partner with is compliant with both state and federal laws, knowledgeable, reputable and a true trusted advisor.

Have questions about the FCRA? Email us for more information.

3. More organizations expect to do more volunteer background checks.

The percentage of responder organizations who expect to do more background checks “next year” jumped from 48% in 2015 to 61% in 2016. 

This is indicative of a couple of things. As the legal landscape toward nonprofits changes, we see more organizations citing the need to screen—generally because of a state law or regulatory requirement, or even a grant requirement. And, organizations feel a sense of moral duty and want to do the right thing to keep their stakeholders safe. Organizations are also becoming savvier when it comes to background checks and are realizing it is one way to determine if a volunteer is a good fit.

So if you’re not screening potential, new, and returning volunteers, you are opening your organization and the people it serves up to risks of harm, litigation, and damage. Beyond the obvious dangers of not screening, you may be damaging your organization’s reputation with future volunteers and the public. And that’s because the public believes in background checks. In a 2016 survey, our parent company Sterling Talent Solutions, found that 95% of respondents believe in mandatory criminal background checks and 84% believe that the safety provided by background checks is more important than an applicant’s right to refuse a background check. Background screening is widely accepted these days.

4. Formal training programs are on the rise.

The percentage of organizations that use formal training programs is now at 83% — up from 2015’s 74%.
More organizations are trending towards being safe rather than sorry. We are seeing a lot of organizations implementing more formalized programs. These training programs have evolved from simply training a volunteer about roles and responsibilities within an organization to a formalized risk management and safety training program for vulnerable populations. In fact, one of our most frequent requests from our clients is to help them find qualified training and certification programs for their volunteers.  Many of these requests start from their insurance companies. Based on this, we recently partnered with a company called Plan to Protect, which offers both web-based and personalized risk management, safety and vulnerable population training and certifications.  

5. Staffing is a challenge for volunteer organizations.

Staffing – recruiting and retaining qualified staff in an economy in which there is a “war for talent” – has replaced background screening as the most costly item for most organizations.

Why? We can’t be sure, but it could be that issues finding and retaining staff have put more pressure on volunteer programs. We all know working for a nonprofit can be quite demanding so it makes sense that it would be challenging to fill positions and keep them filled.

We want to help you solve these challenges. Remember, bookmark and occasionally check out Verified Volunteers’ webinar calendar for free sessions around the topics of recruitment and engagement.


Want to learn more?

Watch the webinar recording with your colleagues at any time: Volunteer Screening 2017: Research Results and Insights.

Get the free report: Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices: 2017.



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