In May 2015, Verified Volunteers administered a survey to a range of 350 organizations, both clients and third-party nonprofits, all of which utilize the services and support of a dedicated volunteer force. The purpose of the survey was to glean insight on best practices and challenges regarding volunteer screening, as well as recruiting, retaining, and managing volunteers.
Verified Volunteers Executive Director Katie Zwetzig found it necessary to provide centralized data, which could be a resource to guide nonprofits everywhere. Points of Light CEO Tracy Hoover praises the report for “demystifying screening in the nonprofit sector” and clarifying volunteer management issues such that all nonprofits can compare themselves against benchmarks and engage in meaningful dialogue.
The results of the survey, published in the Verified Volunteers Volunteer Screening and Best Practices Report: 2016, offer nonprofits a chance to see how their volunteer programs compare to those of their peers and pinpoint ways to improve.
According to the results, volunteer age affects a person’s motivation for volunteering. 80% of organizations surveyed agreed that volunteers aged 55 and older are interested in volunteering in any way needed. Three out of 4 organizations agreed that volunteers aged 35 and younger are interested volunteering in a capacity that exercises their professional skills.
Communication with Volunteers
Volunteer managers know that communication is key when it comes to recruiting and retaining volunteers, but what are the most effective channels? Survey respondents indicated as follows:
Recruiting: in-person events (77.8%), email (76.7%), and websites (74.7%).
Retaining: email (81.3%), in-person events (63.9%), social media (61.1%).
Formal training is a crucial part of onboarding volunteers, but not all nonprofits implement such programs. 73.6% of survey respondents offer formal training to their volunteers, with 77.7% of those organizations relying on in-house staff to conduct the training. An average of 30% of survey respondents rely on volunteers to assist with training volunteers, but 46% of youth development organizations rely on current volunteers to conduct formal volunteer training.
Biggest Budget Strains
Background screening (29.5%) and staffing (23%) were cited as the greatest strains on organizations’ budgets. Respondents offered helpful tips to offset constraints of staff time, suggesting that nonprofits utilize volunteer assistance more creatively. Volunteer assistants can be used to help volunteer managers and office managers. This solution can offer volunteers an interesting “promotion” to handle more responsibility within the organization, and it can free up time for the paid staff members, so they don’t feel so overworked and underpaid.
General Volunteer Screening
Conducting background checks has grown from a matter of prudence to a matter of absolute importance in recent years. Respondents said they were motivated to screen volunteers because it secures their environment, protects their beneficiaries, safeguards their organizations’ reputations, raises the caliber of volunteers, improves compliance, and boosts their volunteer retention rates.
57.4% of respondents conducted background checks on all volunteers before bringing them on board, and only 42.6% did so “some of the time,” depending on what type of positions volunteers filled. 69% of surveyed organizations outsource their screening procedures, while 18.2% use in-house resources and 12.8% use a government source. Organizations working with vulnerable populations are most likely to conduct renewal screenings (65.9%), followed by those whose volunteers work in long-term positions (49.7%).
Sex Offender and Criminal Background Checks
Sex offender and criminal screenings were the most popular form of background checks reported. 86% of respondents conducted sex offender screenings and 9 out of 10 conducted criminal background checks. The authors of the report note that not all sex offender screenings are created equal, and they recommend the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website as the only comprehensive database containing information from national, state, territorial, and tribal governments.
The authors also encourage nonprofits to consult several different databases when conducting criminal background checks, as no single search contains every criminal violation. According to the survey, the four most frequently used criminal record checks were sex offender searches (72.4%), current county/state searches (59.1%), nationwide/multistate database searches (51.4%), and local arrest/sheriff’s office searches (49.7%).
67.6% of respondents include a question about criminal history on volunteer applications. A small percentage of respondents (3.1%) are prevented from doing so because of “ban the box” laws in their state. Nonprofits who are interested in including criminal history questions on their volunteer applications should investigate their states’ ban-the-box laws and consult legal counsel.
Ultimately, respondents indicated that they intend to continue their efforts to screen volunteers, and some shared plans to ramp up their efforts. Organizations reported that integrating multiple layers of screening, utilizing additional tools, and rescreening would add to a safer volunteer environment. Further, many shared that their volunteers are more than willing to submit to screening, as they think it is a sign of organizational integrity.
To read the full report, which includes additional details and information, download it here.
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