Volunteer screenings are a critical component to your volunteer management program
How come I never find my most recent TB test results when I need them? Those of us who frequently volunteer with kids--and there are a lot of us out there-- know that a TB test is often a prerequisite to volunteering. But I've got to admit that even as a volunteer management professional, I find the hoops that volunteers often must leap through annoying. I am going to grade papers and make copies, why do I need a TB test?
Still, daunting or not, do not be swayed. Volunteer screenings are a critical component to your volunteer management program. Keep your focus on protecting the people you serve and fulfilling your mission. The screenings may scare away a handful of people, but everyday nonprofits find that those people who are willing to leap through the hoops can make a genuine difference in the world. Your clients and your mission are worth it.
Not all risk is the same and not all protections the same. Consider positions separately, evaluate the risk in each, and develop screening steps that are appropriate. The riskier the position, the more intense the screening mechanisms must be. Do you need to fingerprint someone who referees a soccer match? The first step in any screening process is actually the description of the position. It'll help you recruit the best people for the job, and it will clarify-- for the volunteer and the organization-- the expectations and boundaries.
After that, other forms of screening can include applications, interviews, reference checks, training and monitoring. Employ the same screening steps for the particular positions; screening procedures are based on the position, not the person.
Also, as Oprah frequently opines, "Trust your gut!" That is certainly true with volunteers. If something seems fishy, ask a peer to join the interview and go the next step in research. At the same time, be sensitive to cultural differences. The goal is to recruit the best people, even if they aren't just like you. Don't make the mistake of believing that a program is too valuable to let thorough screenings get in the way. Volunteers who go through your screening process are more committed to your organization, your mission, your clients and your success.
Here are is a basic guide to screening volunteers:
Low-Risk: Application and signed agreements, interviews, orientations and training, and periodic monitoring.
Mid-Risk: In addition to the elements mentioned in low-risk screenings, consider conducting reference checks and more frequent check-ins and feedback.
High-Risk: Again, in addition to the low- and mid-risk screenings, high-risk screenings frequently require background checks, police reference checks and fingerprinting, as well as frequent monitoring, a possible probation/learning period and extensive training.