When it comes to running background checks, most people think of them as a tool to help protect vulnerable populations, and if a volunteer or employee doesn't have access to children, they don't need to be screened. However, background checks do more than protect people — they help protect other vulnerabilities in your organization, such as your reputation, your brand and your resources.
Anyone who handles finances, machinery, technology, sensitive information or represents your organization in any way should be screened. Unfortunately, most organizations only screen employees or volunteers that work with children, and we are here to tell you that could be a big mistake. Background checks are an important part of every safety plan. There are plenty of dangerous situations that occur every day that we have little control over. However, the choice to run background checks on your volunteers, coaches and staff is well within your control.
Here are five vital reasons why screening everyone, no matter their role, is important.
1. Protect What Matters
This is the most obvious reason to run a background check. Quality background checks are a reliable method for screening out those that can cause harm to your organization — they can often be the single reason for one less victim. Whatever your objections may be to screening — cost, compliance or implementation — there is simply no excuse for not protecting vulnerable populations. Predators with previous offenses often seek out organizations that do not screen. It’s an open invitation to find new prey, and word about your no-screen policy is likely to travel amongst these individuals. Do not allow your park and recreation organization to become a breeding ground for predators!
2. Protect Your Brand
When an employee, volunteer or coach starts working for your park and recreation organization, you extend the value and credibility of your brand to another individual, essentially endorsing them. Your brand is lending them trust, credibility and familiarization. This can be dangerous if this individual isn't trustworthy or credible. Your brand is powerful, and people in your community will trust them simply because they are associated with you. That's why it’s so important that the individuals who represent your organization are credible and safe.
3. Limit Your Liability
Legally, there is no differentiation between a volunteer and a paid employee in terms of negligent hiring claims. If a volunteer commits a crime directly related to their volunteer position, you could be liable — especially if the volunteer had a previous record. Millions of dollars have been awarded to plaintiffs that were directly harmed by the actions of a volunteer. Where did the millions come from? The organization that employed the volunteer. Not knowing about an individual’s past improprieties is not an excuse and, as deemed by juries in cases across the country, not a defense. The best preventative for these types of lawsuits? Quality screening.
4. Shield Your Reputation
In addition to the legal risk and the opportunity for harm to others, not screening volunteers can seriously impact your reputation. Your reputation in the community helps you recruit volunteers — but not having a screening policy may turn some away. Volunteering is a big commitment for many and with many different organizations competing for an individual’s time, you may lose out. If the other organizations have screening policies and you don’t, you may get bumped from the list. Background screening for employment and volunteering is commonplace in the 21st Century. When a prospective volunteer discovers you don’t screen, your credibility as a respectable institution may be in jeopardy. Let the community know you are serious about engaging quality volunteers with a firm policy on screening.
5. Stay in Compliance
Could your organization’s funding be in jeopardy because of a no-screen policy? Numerous state and federal laws mandate the screening of volunteers or anyone with access to vulnerable populations, especially if your organization receives funding from the government. Non-compliance related to screening could land your organization in severe legal trouble. Always be aware of any legislation regarding required screening; understanding your legal requirements and complying with them is a critical best practice.
Now that you know some of the many reasons you should be screening volunteers, your next step is implementing a program. Worried about costs, compliance and resources? Don’t let these concerns create another roadblock. There is a solution — a turnkey platform that manages the entire process. Secure Volunteer from Background Investigation Bureau (BIB) is a web-based system that is completely paperless, manages who has been screened and when, delivers the highest quality screen and facilitates the approval process. BIB is NRPA’s exclusive background screening provider. To learn more and start screening, visit: https://www.nrpa.org/membership/member-discounts/BIB/.
Ken Monroe is the Chief Operating Officer of Background Investigation Bureau.