The Importance of Screening Employees and Volunteers

Hire Slow, Fire Fast

One of the biggest struggles for any business, much less nonprofit organizations, is finding quality employees and volunteers.

This difficulty can result in cutting corners during the hiring process.

One of my favorite principles is ‘hire slow, fire fast.’ Nowhere is this principle more useful than with human service nonprofits.

Your nonprofit might provide services to youth, elderly, developmentally disabled, or other at-risk populations, so it’s vital to have appropriate screening in place.  Hiring or even volunteer development cannot be done in desperation. It must be a measured, well-thought out, and thorough process.

Why Maintaining Screening and Hiring Standards Can Be a Struggle

There can be a few reasons why organizations offer positions and roles to individuals too quickly or hedge on commitments to standards regarding various duties.

A Grace Bias

Many nonprofits play a redemptive role in people’s lives. Consequently, directors and leaders do not want to overly screen candidates who might be looking for a second chance. After all, is anybody perfect? Nonprofits often err on the side of grace vs. erring on the side of adhering too strictly to certain hiring protocols

Inability to Pay Competitive Salaries

In addition to compromising hiring or volunteer standards out of a grace mindset, managers also struggle finding quality candidates due to low salary offers. It’s not always possible for a nonprofit to attract talent when it doesn’t have the resources to pay competitively.

The Work is Hard so It’s Hard to Find Workers

Finally, much nonprofit work is thankless and difficult. Changing the world isn’t always appreciated. Finding those who are willing to get their hands dirty while not receiving a ton of gratitude is no small order.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

In some instances, there just simply isn’t an understanding of best practices around employee and volunteer screening. The nonprofit grew organically through a tight network of friends and friends of friends. It didn’t seem necessary to worry about such things as background checks and running motor vehicle reports. Screening isn’t even on the leadership’s radar.

A Survey of Typical Screening Practices

I am not a human resources professional, but as an insurance professional, I’ve developed a sense of what standards insurance underwriters like to see as far as hiring practices are concerned. And those standards tend to make a lot of sense and jive with HR and other management best practices.

Background Checks

Most nonprofits with municipal contracts or grant monies are required to perform criminal background checks. There are a ton of resources for these background checks available. Many insurance programs offer background checks at reduced rates as one of their value-added services.  Usually, the nonprofit will want to run national background checks along with the local county or city, in addition to the sex offender registry check. These checks can be done through one provider at one time.

Motor Vehicle Reports

If your new volunteer or employee will be driving, then you should run her motor vehicle report, at least for the previous three years. Insurance carriers do not typically run these reports immediately and prefer for the hiring organization to have a practice of checking MVRs early in the interview process. It demonstrates good risk management.

Drug Testing

This one is self-explanatory. In addition to being a solid basic screening process, it also can save you money. Many workers compensations’ programs will offer a discount for a certified drug-free workplace.

Personality Testing

While this type of screening doesn’t have the obvious risk management ramifications as the other two, it does help an organization be more surgical in hiring to fit corporate culture and the nonprofit’s needs.  One of the biggest drains on resources and time is hiring incorrectly. Doing some basic assessments around personality, skills, and other similar factors can save some headaches in the future.

Why Is Screening Important?

There are obvious reasons: You don’t want a driver with a bad motor vehicle record or a childcare worker with a history of criminal behavior or abuse.

There are also some cover the backside reasons.  Directors, officers, and other board management would be wise to confirm that the organization they are leading has these protocols in place.

Further, it is always good practice that an organization built on caring for others takes care to bring in workers that clients, consumers, and students deserve.

How Do You Handle Employee and Volunteer Screening?

What are your organization’s practices?

Where can you see ripple effects from hiring incorrectly or hiring correctly?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you handle screening. Please drop a note in the comments.

The History of Insurance (and what we can learn from it)

An (Extremely) Brief History of Insurance

You can go to Wikipedia or the stacks at your local university if you want a ton of detail

Some of the first hints of insurance trace back to ye olde Babylonia, China, and other ancient cultures (BC era). In Athens, they’d get loans for their cargo and pay extra to have those loans forgiven should their cargo not end up where it needed to via shipwreck.

Then there were the Genoans who shipped things on boats also, but

Some time in the 1600s, a mass fire knocked out over 13,000 houses and property insurance was born.

Cars were built, and in 1897 in the states, Travelers Insurance sold the first auto policy.

As we continue to add new commerce and technological practices and innovations, insurance tends to grow and meet needs through new policies and coverages.

The Lesson

As our businesses and nonprofits grow and as our operations and personnel and assets shift and change, it’s important to keep an eye out on what is needed to protect everything.

What happens on a macro level over time – policies coming on line in response to huge cultural and technological shifts – should also happen on a micro level in each of our nonprofits, businesses, and personal lives.

At any given time, what do we need to protect? To whom are we responsible?

I wrote a check to a life insurance company today because I’m a married man with three children. 12 years ago, that check wouldn’t have been necessary.

Continually review where you are and the people who depend on your work, business, or even life.


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