Volunteer Background Checks – Who Should Pay?

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Who should pay for volunteer background checks

Background checks have become a necessity for many nonprofit organizations. They help nonprofits ensure the safety of those they care for by screening potential risks out of their volunteer pool. They also help limit the organization’s liability, potential for bad press, and the resulting loss of financial support.

It’s unfortunate, but trust is no longer enough for organizations that work with vulnerable groups. While volunteer screening is important for providing safety to the both the organization and the community, not every volunteer is thrilled to see that they have to submit to a background check in order to lend a hand. It’s difficult enough to get a steady stream of volunteers without adding another hurdle for them to jump over.

And then there’s the cost. Background checks can get expensive when you conduct them on every volunteer that is added throughout the year. As many volunteer organizations are starting to see the need for background checks on their volunteers, a divisive issue has emerged – who should pay for them?  

There are several different points of view as to how the expense should be handled and the answer may depend heavily on the specific circumstance of your organization. Let’s examine both sides of the coin.

Volunteer pays…

While the cost of an individual background check may not seem like much, it does add up for organizations that rely on volunteer support. It may be more attractive to have individual volunteers eat a small cost instead of leaving a much larger bill for the organization. It can also ensure that you can afford volunteers if funding for your program isn’t predictable or enough to cover the cost.

Acquiring and retaining volunteers is a challenge for nonprofit organizations (as I’m sure you are already aware). For the volunteer, adding a monetary obligation to a time commitment can be a burden that keeps them from wanting to help out.

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On the other hand, those that decide that they are willing to shell out the “entry fee” may be willing to stick around for more long term volunteer work since they’ve committed more of themselves to your organization (purely speculative). If your organization requires its volunteers to go through lengthy training it may help ensure longer retention for each volunteer at the expense of having less people initially offer their help.

You can also soften the blow of requesting for volunteers to pay for their own background checks by letting them know that the expense is tax deductible. Paying for a background check for volunteer work is just as much a donation as any other and your volunteers will know that they will at least get some of that money back at tax time.

Organization pays…

If your organization decides to pick up the tab, you may be able to expect a higher volume of volunteers. Of course with more volunteers, come more background checks and nonprofits with high volunteer turnover rates have to consider this. On the one hand, footing the bill makes you more attractive to potential volunteers. On the other hand, that same added attraction can add to your costs.

While cost can be a large factor in the decision to conduct background checks, the value that they add through mission support and liability coverage should always be kept in mind. There is return on investment when implementing a volunteer screening program. Consider it as an insurance policy that helps keep your organization defended in the instance where the worst happens.

In Summary

Ultimately, it will come down to the needs and circumstances of your organization. If you have a lot of seasonal one-time volunteers, it may take a considerable burden off of your budget to have your volunteers pay for their own background checks. At the same time you could have a challenge meeting your mission’s needs if people aren’t willing to volunteer as a result. You may just have to experiment with both options and see if the impact is great enough one way or the other.

Just remember that while the expense of background checks can feel like a burden, whoever is paying for it is helping to create a safer environment for the community that you support. The benefit far exceeds the burden in this regard.