If someone you don't know knocked on your front door, would you immediately open it and invite them into your home? Probably not.
Why should your nonprofit be any different? In a nutshell, that's the premise behind background screening. While most people applying to work or volunteer at a nonprofit have honest, noble motives, others intentionally misrepresent their background for a variety of reasons, which can include:
- Gaining access to vulnerable populations to cause physical harm
- Gaining access to protected information for financial fraud or crime
- Acquiring undue, on-the-job experience by falsifying skills, education and training.
Background screening can help spot these people, making organizations safer and more productive by validating that individuals: 1) are who they say they are; 2) do not present a risk to the organization based on their criminal history, and 3) possess the required skills, experience, and training to do specific tasks.
If it sounds like a no-brainer, here's the rub. Some nonprofits feel that background screening can be too costly, time-consuming, or resource-intensive, all of which are valid concerns for organizations that often rely in part on the generosity of others.
The good news is automated online technologies have made the screening process easier and more affordable than ever before for nonprofits. Here are a couple of smart, user-friendly screening tools available to nonprofits, along with a few tech-based buying considerations.
Database Technology: Search Nationwide Criminal Records in a Click
Criminal record databases have been around a while, but they just keep getting bigger and better, expanding both in the number of records they contain and the level of detail provided. They began popping up about fifteen years ago when innovative private companies began compiling proprietary national criminal record databases. These firms contract with hundreds of jurisdictions at the city, county, and state levels across the United States to receive regularly updated criminal data in electronic format. Upon receipt, this data is uploaded into a standardized, searchable database and made available to employers. Subscribers pay a nominal fee and must agree to usage guidelines determined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws.
Today, national criminal database searches offer instant access to hundreds of millions of criminal records on millions of individuals across all fifty states. A search usually requires only a first name, last name, and date of birth, and can be performed on any computer with internet access. The results are often instant, and the searches generally are offered at a deep discount to nonprofit organizations.
The benefits of such searches are many; a national criminal records database can help nonprofits:
- Find criminal records in jurisdictions not reported by an applicant if he or she was attempting to hide a criminal history.
- Save money if a criminal record is found that would disqualify a candidate early in the vetting process, since a database search costs a fraction of a manual county courthouse search.
- Save time with instant, on-the-spot results, particularly for "clear" searches where no criminal records were detected. "Hits" (searches that yield matching criminal records) can sometimes take a little longer, usually about a day, since some providers will automatically validate any matching criminal record with its source.
While databases are a critical part of a complete criminal background check, it is important to know how to use them. For example, be sure the database includes updated records from the city, county, or state where an applicant has lived or worked for the longest period of time, otherwise there could be a data gap in locations where you need it most. If the database lacks information from that area, it is recommended you perform a national criminal database search and a county courthouse search.
What About the FBI Criminal Record Database?
Access to the FBI database, the National Crime Information Center, is somewhat limited. There are controlled pilot programs that provide direct access to NCIC for youth-serving nonprofits, but most nonprofits must work through a law enforcement agency to access the database. Regardless of how a nonprofit accesses the NCIC database, a valid set of fingerprints is required. Each volunteer screened using the NCIC must have his or her prints rolled by the nonprofit, by a law enforcement agency, or at a third-party collection site. There may be a charge for gathering fingerprints that is assessed in addition to any fees charged to access NCIC.
Volunteer Self-screening - Let Applicants Pick Up the Tab
For organizations lacking the time and money to perform background screening, a relatively new option known as volunteer self-screening allows a nonprofit to shift this critical responsibility to its applicants.
Potential volunteers and employees simply log on to a secure Website created by a screening provider, enter their personal information and with a few easy mouse clicks, they initiate their own background check. The cost of the background check can be billed to the nonprofit, or the site can include a "self-pay" option that allows the applicant to pay for the screening.
With volunteer self-screening, nonprofits get the security and peace of mind of a quality background check for a fraction of the time and effort. In addition, this screening tool can help nonprofits:
- Save money by transferring screening costs to interested applicants. On an individual basis, screening costs are minimal and easily affordable to most applicants.
- Increase administrative efficiencies by requiring little to no internal resources, allowing existing staff to remain focused on the organization's core mission.
- Increase data accuracy, since all information is entered once over the Internet, eliminating the tedious duplicate data entry and human errors often associated with printed applications.
Technology Tips When Considering Background Screening Technologies
For nonprofits that are ready to start a screening program or simply want to update an existing program, here are three easy tips for navigating the sea of available background screening technology.
Don't just consider price when considering databases: Some people assume that criminal data is a commodity-that all companies can access and return the exact same data. While vendors should definitely offer criminal background searches at discounted prices for nonprofits, nonprofits should clearly understand how a quoted price relates to the proposed scope of service, which can vary depending on the screening provider. To ensure you get the service you need for the best price, here are a few questions to ask a potential provider when considering a criminal database service.
- Can you provide me with a list of all data sources included in the database?
- Can you tell me how often the data is updated for each source?
- Does any of your data come from third parties?
- How many database searches did you perform last year?
- Based on the number of searches you performed last year, what was your hit ratio (meaning, how many searches actually returned one or more criminal records)?
- What is the average turnaround time for a search?
- Do you adjudicate the results (meaning, if a matching criminal record is returned, do you verify the record and its disposition with the record source)? If so, is it automatic or does the user initiate adjudication?
- If you do adjudicate the results, is there an additional cost for this service?
Check out a sample report: Rarely do two jurisdictions classify, report, and transmit criminal data in the same way. Knowing that, a background screening report should present the results of a criminal background check in a consistent, easy-to-read format. Data from multiple sources and jurisdictions should be compiled into one report with consistent fields.
The look of the final report matters because if the results of a criminal background check are illegible or hard to read, it can lead to delays in the employee and volunteer vetting process and errors due to misinterpretation.
Don't forget about access, which can make or break a program: Is it easy to order the background check and get the results? If not, that screening program probably won't last. It's a subject that often is overlooked when building a screening program or evaluating a potential provider. Be sure a prospective vendor can provide:
- Streamlined access to background screening via the Internet, with hierarchal accounts and controls, based on user authorization levels.
- Pre-set screening packages based on your hiring specifications and data availability within certain jurisdictions to simplify and standardize the ordering process for your users.
For larger nonprofits that use an applicant tracking system or human resource integration system, be sure a provider can integrate their background screening solution into your system. This drastically reduces errors by eliminating manual processes such as data entry and can speed up the hiring process.
By Beverly McIntosh, Senior Director, Sales - Employment & Volunteer Screening, Lexis Nexis Screening Solutions.