How Effective is the Screening Process of your Organization?

Screening a volunteer or a staff member is not equal to doing a police check.  It is a much longer and deeper process than sending someone to the police office with a bit of paperwork to complete.

Consider this.  Police checks will only provide information on a person that has been convicted of a crime in the past.  This does not include someone who has been committing crimes for years and has never been caught.  It does not include someone who was acquitted for a crime they did commit because there was not enough evidence to bring them to a conviction.  It does not include and individual on the verge of committing a crime.  It does not include someone who chooses to commit a crime shortly after their police check is completed. 

With this in mind, we need to carefully consider how to keep people safe, particularly vulnerable individuals, while involved with our organizations. 

The full screening process begins when we create a position description.  If it is deemed necessary for the position that a police check be done, we include these requirements in our position description. We include this information in our recruiting phase as well so that potential candidates can self screen.  If we complete follow through on the requirements, this will help to rule out individuals who know that they would be disqualified because of a previous crime. 

The application process needs to request information that is tailored to match what is necessary for that position and the level of risk determined for that position.  Each question on the application needs to have a legitimate reason for being asked.  For example: what is the reason that your organization requires the birth date of the candidate? 

During the recruiting phase we are looking for the right volunteer.  A warm body that can be included in your volunteer statistics does not equal a great volunteer.  I cannot stress enough that just because someone wants to give their time to your organization does not mean that you are required to engage them.  Let volunteers know that there is an approval process and you will get back to them.  Choose carefully and listen to your instincts.  If you feel uncomfortable do not ignore this!  If you choose someone who is not a good fit for your organization even though you knew better, you are signing up for giving up large amounts of time later to deal with what could become a supervision issue at the least and potentially a significantly serious problem. 

Some of the big areas of error that I see in regards to recruiting is that the organization is not clear about the expectations of the volunteer position up front (because they don’t want to ask too much of a volunteer), and make mistakes taking on people that are not a good fit for the organization because they need to fill the position (and they don’t know how to say no).  This leads to volunteers who don’t appear ‘committed’ because they don’t fit in, or they did not have clarity on what the position involved.  Take the time to develop a real position description, be honest about what you expect from the volunteer and don’t be afraid to say no thanks. 

It is in the best interest of your organization to meet with each candidate.  Pre-plan your interview questions, based on the position, to ensure that all necessary areas are explored with the candidate.  Questions should be consistent between interviews for the same position and all questions must comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act.  The interview is one of the best screening tools if planned and carried out properly.  Spend the time necessary to get to know this person and find out their motivations for wanting to work with your organization. 

If an in depth interview was done with each candidate, some weight is taken off of references and background checks.  References and background checks are a time to confirm facts about the candidate.  Find out if what they have told you is true.  At this point conclusions should already have been drawn about the candidate and reference and background checks should serve as a confirmation for your decision.   It is dangerous practice to base a decision solely on a reference call or a background check. 

Introducing a probationary period allows the organization more time to watch for areas of concern.  Let the volunteer know that this has become standard practice within your organization.  Generally if the rules are for everyone, this is acceptable to people. 

Supervision of volunteers is critical.  Again based on the position and the risk of that position, decide what supervision level is necessary and maintain it

Performance management is not only for staff.  Ensure that the organization is having regular check ins with volunteers and directing their involvement.  Without this the organization may not know enough about what volunteers are doing with their time.  This puts the organization at serious risk. 

It is a mistake to assume that volunteers have less integrity than staff members.  They are all people and have the same potential for integrity within your organization.  Staff and volunteers engaged in activities that are higher risk need to go through the same processes.  For example they would need to sign the same confidentiality agreements and be given the same level of training.  As we give ongoing training we need to continue to screen individuals during this process. 

Screening is the responsibility of many.  Teach all staff and seasoned volunteers to screen new people in your organization.  Teach them what to watch for and what to report.  We all have a responsibility to protect others. 

For more information on Interviews and Performance Management for volunteers contact Volunteer Calgary to register for our ‘Elements of Volunteer Engagement’ training course. 

To assist with implementing a full screening process for your organization an online assessment tool has been developed.  Members of Volunteer Calgary can login and access this tool.   

Volunteer Canada has great information on A Ten Step Screening Process:



About Propellus

Propellus is a non-profit organization that has been empowering organizations since 1955. Through a dynamic range of consulting, training and member services, it helps organizations envision and realize new paths, practices and possibilities. Propellus guides, mentors and educates clients, arming them with tools and resources to help boost organizational effectiveness. Propellus strengthens organizations; in doing so, it leads the way toward building thriving communities.
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