Some aspects of risk management are clear-cut. But background checks for your volunteers — and the possibility of bringing someone on board who is considered “risky” — can sometimes be a grey area.

According to Mela Shah, volunteer program assistant and hotline specialist, Minnesota Literacy Council (St. Paul, MN), “Consistency is key! If you're running background checks on one type of volunteer, you should do it for all of those volunteers,” she says.

So how do you know if background checks on volunteers should be required? Shah offers this guideline: “In my opinion background checks are not necessary for all programs/volunteer positions. It really depends on what your organization's policy is. If you're working with children or vulnerable populations, then yes, absolutely do background checks. If your program isn't working with children or vulnerable populations, talk to a manager or HR person and decide as an organization if you're going to run background checks on volunteers. The most important thing is to be consistent,” she reiterates.

If you do decide to run a background check on your volunteers, also be consistent regarding what information is considered grounds for not hiring a volunteer. “Talk to a manager or HR person about hiring policies. You may be able to tweak some of those policies into a document about hiring volunteers,” Shah suggests.

Source: Mela Shah, Volunteer Program Assistant and Hotline Specialist, Minnesota Literacy Council, St. Paul, MN. Phone (651) 645-2277, ext. 241. E-mail: mshah@mnliteracy.org. Website: www.mnliteracy.org

No-Cost Background Checks

If you feel background checks should be done on your volunteers but don't have much of a budget, Mela Shah, volunteer program assistant and hotline specialist, Minnesota Literacy Council (St. Paul, MN), suggests checking into these two free options:

  • National Sex Offender Registry. (www.nsopw.gov)
  • Public Criminal History database. Most states provide this as a free service. For example: Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (www.bca.state.mn.us/bca.asp)