III. Screening, Selecting, and Matching
The Screening Process
LIRS Sample Network Materials
Are you recruiting volunteers for low-risk or high-risk opportunities? The following chapter will outline possible strategies for ensuring volunteers are set up for success in their role within your ministry or organization. Consider the policies you need in place to protect both your volunteers and those you are serving.
The Importance of Volunteer Screening
When faced with finite funding and limited staff capacity, it is tempting to accept any volunteer offering his or her time and talents. However, every organization should develop a process for screening prospective volunteers. The screening process helps to ensure the placement is a good match for both the prospective volunteer and the organization. During the screening process, prospective volunteers have the opportunity to learn more about the mission of the organization and the realities of the job, while the organization gains insight into the motivations, skill set, and expectations of the volunteer.
Additionally, volunteer screening is critical for risk management. Similar to paid employees, your congregation or organization is legally responsible for the words and actions of your volunteers while they are on the job. Volunteers may have access to confidential information, regularly interact with clients and/or represent your organization publicly, so it is critical to find volunteers you can trust. Never be afraid to turn down a prospective volunteer.xvii If you don’t think a volunteer would be a good fit for the work they want to do, suggest an alternative way for them to be involved. For instance, if someone who doesn’t know how to use a computer well wants to volunteer doing admin work, suggest instead that he or she volunteer once a week teaching English.
The best approach to screening may vary between churches and organizations and the type of work volunteers will be doing. Read more below to decide what is the right strategy for your work.
The Screening Process
Best practices for screening volunteers vary greatly among volunteer positions. Think critically to determine the level of screening appropriate for each position. For example, a volunteer who distributes bus passes and calling cards at the local Greyhound bus station will require less screening than a foster family. Below you will find different strategies for vetting prospective volunteers.INITIAL CONTACT
The screening process begins in the first interaction between the individual and the organization, which might be over the phone, via email, or at a volunteer recruitment event. Informal by nature, this initial conversation is a great opportunity to gauge the attitude and interests of the volunteer and redirect anyone who does not meet the needs and requirements of the job. For low-risk volunteer positions, collect contact information and invite prospective volunteers to attend an informational session or training. For more high-risk volunteer positions, ask them to fill out a volunteer interest form or stop by the office to discuss the role.xviiiVOLUNTEER APPLICATION
Some organizations require all prospective volunteers to complete a volunteer application. Other congregations or organizations prefer a more informal volunteer interest form. An application is a great opportunity to learn more about the interests and skill sets of prospective volunteers but may be a barrier to volunteering for people who find applications intimidating.
Have paper copies of your application or interest form available in the office, as well as a version available online. Follow up with applicants in a timely manner to ensure prospective volunteers do not lose interest.xixINTERVIEW
A phone or in-person interview is a good way to determine if an applicant’s attitude, skill set, and interests are a good match for the culture and needs of your organization. An interview allows the organization to dig deeper into the volunteer application while also creating space for the applicant to ask questions. Be mindful that conducting phone and in-person interviews requires significant staff time and may intimidate perspective volunteers, so you may want to skip this step for less intensive volunteer positions.
During the interview, be sure to ask open-ended questions that allow applicants to draw upon past experiences and discuss future ambitions. Actively listen to their responses and ask pointed follow-up questions. Click here to read sample interview questions.
Typically, interviews last 15-20 minutes. More skilled positions, such as board membership, may require more substantive questions or a second interview.
Follow these tips to ensure the interview is a positive experience for both parties:
- Ask questions and listen to their ideas. Take into consideration their interests, skillset, and level of commitment.
- Be conversational and affirming. You want candidates to feel comfortable sharing personal information and asking questions. Ask for their honesty upfront.
- Clearly explain the mission of the organization and the expectations of the job. Inquire about what additional training and support they feel they need to perform the job well.
- Be sensitive to “red flags.” These might include unrealistic expectations, emotional instability, feigned interest, questionable motives, lack of cultural sensitivity, or commitment concerns.
- Discuss any unique needs. This could include a disability, limited availability, or stipulations of their volunteer hours. A stipulation might be the need to have hours approved by the volunteer manager or the requirement of regular evaluations.xx
Reference checks provide another opportunity for screening applicants. They can help you confirm the accuracy of the volunteer application, while also providing additional insight into the personality, skill set, and work ethic of the prospective volunteer. If you have additional concerns following the interview, ask for and follow up with personal and professional references. For high-risk volunteer positions, such as volunteers working with children or confidential information, a background check is needed.xxiBACKGROUND CHECK
Conducting a criminal background check is important for any volunteer working with children or vulnerable populations but might not be necessary for positions where applicants already have professional credentials. For positions that require professional accreditations (such as verifying an attorney’s active bar membership), a simple verification of their credentials is a good step and might make further background checks unnecessary.
If a background check is necessary, note the two main types of background checks:
- Name-based check: A name-based check uses an individual’s name and Social Security number to check for criminal history. They are subject to numerous weaknesses, including risk of false information, maiden vs. married name inconsistencies, database spelling errors, and false positives resulting from two individuals sharing the same or similar names.
- Fingerprint-based check: A fingerprint-based check uses an individual’s fingerprints to confirm identity and check for criminal history.xxii
There is no single national database that contains all criminal records. Consequently, you may need to mix and match depending on the volunteer responsibilities and client-base volunteers will be working with. The main databases that can be checked include:
- FBI Background Check: An FBI background check is the most exhaustive check available. The database contains over 200 million arrests and conviction records from over 45 million individuals. The test compares an individual’s fingerprints to all federal crime records and 70-90% of every state’s criminal databases.
- State Background Check: A state-based background check uses an individual’s name and/or Social Security number to check for any crimes committed in that state. A state background check is obtained through a state agency.
- County/Local Check: A county/local background check is conducted through the local police or sheriff’s department. This check will only reveal crimes committed within a local jurisdiction.
- Private Vendor Checks/Database: Another option is to hire a private vendor. Depending on the company, private vendors will have access to county record repositories or will maintain their own database of records purchased from individual states. They typically conduct name-based checks. However, depending on the method they use to collect data, certain states or types of crimes may be omitted. Make sure to research thoroughly before selecting a private vendor.
- Driver’s License Check: Be sure to check the driving record of a volunteer responsible for transporting clients or other volunteers.
- State/National Sex Offender Registries: Use the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) to conduct a free name-based search of all of sex offender registries nationwide. This website is maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice.xxiii
Conducting background checks can be a complicated process since requirements vary greatly from state to state. Make sure to double-check that you are complying with your local laws. Additionally, prior to conducting a background check, have the applicant complete a volunteer authorization for background consent form. Click here for recommendations for background checks for volunteers working with children.
Upon completing your screening process, work with the volunteer to determine what position would fit both the needs of your organization and the volunteer’s skill set and commitment level. Make sure both parties are comfortable with the decision, and agree to check in regularly to ensure that the placement remains a good fit.
- Review job descriptions and develop a screening process for each position.
- Screen prospective volunteers as appropriate.
- Match volunteers with an open position.
LIRS Sample Network Materials
Background Checks Recommendations for Working with Children
Volunteers who work with your agency without access to minors’ information, minors themselves, or their families should at least submit to an online criminal search and should be checked against local state sex offender registries. Volunteers who work directly with children, families and individuals’ private information should also undergo fingerprint screening. Additionally, volunteers who provide any kind of transportation to families or children should provide a copy of a valid driver’s license and insurance and should submit to a drug-screening test.