One in three U.S. nonprofit organizations does no background checks on volunteers, and about one in eight does no screening, says a report out today from the National Center for Victims of Crime. The group said agencies serving “vulnerable populations” could benefit from more thorough and comprehensive volunteer screening. “Incomplete screening creates unacceptable risks,” said center director Mary Lou Leary. Two thirds of agencies that do background checks do not check fingerprint databases, which the center said is the the most reliable form of background check.
Organizations that do not screen volunteers cited the cost of screening, questions about its usefulness and concerns about offending potential volunteers. Of those that do screen, nearly 50 percent had identified “inappropriate” volunteers through screening. The center suggested that screening include in-person interviews, personal and professional reference checks, and national criminal background checks of names and, if possible, fingerprints. A recent ChoicePoint audit of 3.7 million background screenings conducted between 2002 and 2007 found that more than 189,000 individuals with at least one criminal conviction had attempted to gain employment or volunteer status with a nonprofit organization; of those, more than 2,700 were registered sex offenders.