DATE: November 2013 - Safety & Security With a Vulnerable Population
Nonprofit and community organizations depend on thousands of volunteers to help support their extensive programs. Many of these
volunteers work exclusively with children or elderly people. Therefore, it is important to check each volunteer to ensure that potential
predators do not have access to these more vulnerable people. Because all volunteers could potentially have access to children and
elderly, all adult volunteers and employees should go through a proper background investigation regardless of relationships with staff,
position in the community, or any other reason.
Volunteers are the foundation of many small to medium nonprofit organizations. Volunteers help organizations achieve their missions
and objectives. However, a key challenge for any organization is to select volunteers who are competent and contribute to the delivery
of service in a safe environment. The following are some best practice guidelines for conducting Background Investigations on
Volunteers and Employees:
What are Background Investigations of Volunteers & Employees? Background Investigations (BI) are a process performed by an
organization to ensure that the right match is made between the work to be done and the person who will do it. BI serve to create and
maintain a safe environment. It is an ongoing process designed to identify any person, whether paid or unpaid, volunteer or staff, who
may potentially cause harm to children, youth or other vulnerable persons.
Educating participants, staff and volunteers about potential abuse is very important. However, it is not enough! As soon as any
organization opens, whether run by staff or volunteers, it has a responsibility to appropriately check any individual who will have access to vulnerable people.
BI requirements and procedures may differ for each nonprofit organization according to the level of risk to which participants are
exposed. Clearly, the requirements to check volunteers who would be unsupervised while working with children or other vulnerable
people are greater than for volunteers who would work with the same type of participants in a supervised setting.
Although it is recognized that organizations must manage scarce resources, the selection of the level of a BI conducted must be
exercised with caution. All nonprofit organizations should develop a BI approach that is consistent with its duty of care. Organizations
will be held accountable for the harm caused to participants resulting from their failure to exercise their duty of care.
The application of good BI policies will ensure that organizations meet their obligation to take reasonable steps to protect those in their care.
Background Investigations measures? Setting the BI standard is based on the risk factor. For example, with low-risk positions, you
may have a minimum BI standard that volunteers complete a consent form, the information contained therein, is verified, and that
supervisors regularly meet with volunteers to provide feedback on their work.
Actively work to reduce risk in specific positions. For example, you could design positions that require volunteers to work in pairs with
vulnerable people or introduce an initial mentor phase where an experienced person works with new volunteers.
If your volunteers are active in more than one position, make sure they are checked for the position where the level of risk to
vulnerable people is the highest. If volunteers change positions, make sure the extent of the BI used for the previous position is
appropriate for the new one.
Be very clear that your organization is extremely careful about selecting volunteers, and do not apologize for that fact. Make sure that
your promotional materials, including your position descriptions, are kept accurate and up-to-date.
If you are recruiting through your local volunteer center, ensure that its staff is kept up-to-date about changes in position descriptions
and of any special considerations that would affect the referral of volunteers. When someone indicates interest in a position, send
information to him or her before you commit to an interview. Ensure that the documents include all of the information available about the position in question, and about the organization's BI measures.
It is only fair that there are no surprises, and that potential applicants are given an opportunity to check themselves out at this point. It also saves time that might have been wasted interviewing someone who was not aware of the BI measures and who refuses to
participate in them.
•It is important to have a formal recruitment process.
•The organization should be open about its process, including the BI, and make it clear that not everyone is accepted for the
position for which they apply.
•Recruitment materials should indicate that your organization thoroughly checks applicants.
The BI process should be based on the assessment of the risk to which the participants are exposed. Consider the following steps:
•Look at each position individually.
•Examine the position description and determine the nature and degree of risk to which participants are exposed through the
delivery of services by volunteers in the position.
•Review the BI process for the position.
The intrusiveness of the BI, which can include police records checks are proportional to the degree of risk to which the participant is
exposed during the delivery of service by a volunteer in the position. There is no magic or set in stone approach to selecting a BI
To determine which process is appropriate, ask yourself these two basic questions:
1. Given all that you know about the position, including its risks and the vulnerability of the participants, what do you need to know
about the applicant in order to decide whether to accept or reject them? Do you need to know about?
•attitudes towards participants,
•ability to develop bonds with vulnerable participants,
•motivation for volunteering.
2. What BI process will provide this kind of information?
Consider Commercial Investigations (CI) for giving the protection your organization needs. Today’s business environment dictates that
prudent business practices require background investigations. CI provides valuable information about your job candidates, volunteers, employees and business partners. Due diligence is an important component of any business transaction. CI can assist you through its attentive and persistent pursuit of accurate, timely, cost effective and fully compliant background investigation reports delivered with exceptional client service. Visit our website for more details of our service offering and recommended best practices. Contact a representation at CI to discuss your specific needs at 800-284-0906 or firstname.lastname@example.org.