Volunteers are essential to carrying out the mission of so many organizations, supporting not only outreach and programming, but everyday operations. Volunteers are even more valuable in the current economic environment, as rising costs and labor shortages continue to put additional strain on already limited resources.
Thoughtful planning and coordination can help you use volunteers effectively — and that starts in the vetting and onboarding stages. Americans have high expectations for volunteer screening and training, as uncovered in the recent Risk Radar Report – State of Volunteerism in America. This report, recently released by Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. (a stock insurer) , reveals a distinct disconnect between the public’s desire for rigorous levels of volunteer screening and training, and what volunteers actually experience.
Following are the key learnings from the report, along with steps you can take to update your volunteer program for greater safety and efficiency.
Expectations for volunteer screening and training
To provide some background, the report was informed by a nationwide survey — and nearly two-thirds of respondents attend or frequent an organization that regularly relies on volunteer support. This group had clear expectations related to safety steps. Criminal background checks for volunteers ranked the highest, and the following rounded out the top five results both for screening and training.
Percent of Respondents Who Expect Volunteer Screening
- Criminal background check – 52%
- Employment background checks – 46%
- Volunteer applicant interviews – 43%
- Verification of application information – 41%
- National Sex Offender Registry screening – 41%
Percent of Respondents Who Expect Volunteer Training
- General orientation and training – 47%
- Childcare training, if working with children – 45%
- First aid and CPR training – 45%
- Food safety training, if applicable – 38%
- Sexual abuse prevention training – 36%
How expectations align with the steps currently taken with volunteers
Expectations contrast notably with volunteers’ reality. Most survey respondents (90%) have volunteered with organizations, so they speak from experience. As noted above, 52% expect organizations to conduct criminal background checks, but only 33% say the organizations they volunteer for have taken this step. Another significant discrepancy is in child care training, where 45% of respondents would expect this training, but only 18% of volunteers working with children receive it. Here again is a closer look at the top five in each category.
Percent of Volunteers Who Experienced Screening
- Criminal background check – 33% (vs. 52% expected)
- Employment background checks – 24% (vs. 46% expected)
- Volunteer applicant interviews – 28% (vs. 43% expected)
- Verification of application information – 26% (vs. 41% expected)
- National Sex Offender Registry screening – 16% (vs. 41% expected)
Percent of Volunteers Who Experienced Training
- General orientation and training – 42% (vs. 47% expected)
- Childcare training, if working with children – 18% (vs. 45% expected)
- First aid and CPR training – 27% (vs. 45% expected)
- Food safety training, if applicable – 17% (vs. 38% expected)
- Sexual abuse prevention training – 13% (vs. 36% expected)
How these discrepancies could impact your organization
While every membership is different, the survey showed that safety steps could be a significant consideration for your members (and potential members). In fact, 43% of respondents agreed that the level of volunteer screening and/or training impacts whether they attend a house of worship, school or nonprofit, or an event or camp.
In other words, your safety-related actions — or inaction — can have a ripple effect on membership and participation in your activities. To help you get a better feel for how this affects the population you serve, the report also uncovered some demographic-related insights. Location is a major factor. Those living in urban areas were more likely to agree the level of volunteer training affects their decision to attend/participate compared to those living in suburban and rural areas.
Life stage also plays an important role. Respondents over age 45 were more likely to say the level of volunteer screening does not affect their decision to attend/participate than those aged 18-44. And respondents with children were more likely to agree the level of volunteer training affects their decision than those without children.
What your organization can do to improve its volunteer program
It’s important to assess and update your volunteer program periodically to ensure you’re protecting your members, your organization and your volunteers themselves. To get you started, here are four fundamental steps you should take to support a safety-minded volunteer program.
- Volunteer coordinator: Managing volunteers can be an unwieldy task. A designated volunteer coordinator can help you stay organized and have a better line of sight into your volunteer program overall.
- Onboarding protocol: Your volunteers should go through a consistent onboarding process. If you don’t currently have a process that covers all basic training (general orientation, first aid and CPR, etc.), you should establish one.
- Background checks: At a minimum, your organization should conduct background checks for all volunteers who work with children and as well as those volunteers who have access to your organization's money or financial information.
- Documentation: As part of your onboarding process for each volunteer, request a formal volunteer application that permits a background check as well as a signed indemnity and release form.
These actions can help ensure the volunteers who assist with your operation have been thoroughly vetted and prepared. Keep in mind, there are many other considerations that go into making a volunteer program safer and more efficient for all.