Screening Volunteers

by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center

A well-designed screening process is an investment in the future of your organization and the safety and well-being of the clientele you serve. When correctly applied, screening of applicants for volunteer positions is a risk management strategy that can reduce the risk of harm and assist you in fulfilling your duty of reasonable care. Screening is used to detect applicants who have identifiable characteristics that would increase risk if they were placed in inappropriate positions. The missions of some organizations may not allow the exclusion of individuals who have characteristics that appear to increase risks.

Who Should Be Screened

Every nonprofit should exercise reasonable care to make certain the applicant seeking a volunteer position is the right person for the position. More intensive screening is required if the position requires interaction with vulnerable clientele, such as children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities, handling funds or driving vehicles.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Screening Volunteers

Do not assume one screening process fits all positions or make the mistake of believing a specific program is too important to let screening get in the way.

Do not ignore screening when the person is a celebrity, is recommended by a friend, staff or board member, or is your neighbor. Also do not judge applicants by appearance and demeanor alone.

Do have a job description for each position that specifically addresses risk factors for the position. Make the process legal and require an application, in person interview and reference check for all applicants. To create an efficient and affordable process, limit use of more intrusive and expensive screening tools to the final steps of the process.

When checking official agency records (criminal history background or credit), it is important to get permission in writing from the applicant prior to the search. Only collect information relevant to the position or selection decision for a specific position and obtain them for all applicants for the position. Finally, weigh the results along with the information gleaned from the basic screening.

Screening along with training, supervision, and following sound policies and procedures are risk management essentials in every community-serving nonprofit.

This article was written by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC). NRMC is a MCN partner and provides training, technical assistance and informational resources for controlling risks that threaten a nonprofit’s ability to accomplish its mission. For more information about all of MCN’s partners and discount programs for members, visit Cost Saving Programs for MCN Members.

5 out of 5 users found this page helpful.

Was this page helpful?


Only current members of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits may post comments to this page.

Login To Comment

Individual Login

You are signed in as:

View My Account divider Logout

Search nonprofit Resources library


Stay Updated

Subscribe to Email Alerts »




Upcoming HR Trainings