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Why do I need a background check to volunteer?

You are generously giving your time, talent, experience and enthusiasm to a non-profit organization…for FREE! Now they are asking for you to complete a Police Information Check, a Criminal Record Check, or a Child Intervention Check, making you feel overly scrutinized and maybe like they see you as a potentially dangerous or suspicious person.


Well, they don’t.  And they kind of do. 


It is important and necessary for non-profit organizations to exercise proper risk management procedures when accepting paid staff or volunteer staff.  This practice is commonly referred to as “screening”.  Screening may include:


Criminal Record Checks
(also sometimes called Police Information Checks, Crim Checks, Police Record Checks)


First, let’s distinguish the difference between the terms:


Criminal Record Checks are performed in Canada by the RCMP.

Police Information Checks are performed in Edmonton by Edmonton Police Services (EPS).


Basically, these checks are the same and are conducted to review the potential volunteer’s criminal history. Only police agencies are authorized to perform these checks and they are done by the Canadian police authority, generally in the jurisdiction in which the applicant lives. These checks are required for several reasons:


To ensure that the volunteer does not have a criminal record. This is important for agencies to know, especially if the volunteer will be working in a high-risk position relating to vulnerable people and when handling money. 

  • Vulnerable sector searches are basically enhanced criminal record searches performed when a volunteer will work in a position of trust or authority, with the following populations:


o   Children and minors under 18 years of age

o   Seniors ages 65 years and up

o   Physically or mentally challenged individuals

o   Other circumstance, such as a non-English speaking refugee


Due diligence. Simply put, this is the investigation of a person prior to signing a contract. Legally, “due diligence” can be used to show that an organization has done everything possible to prevent something from happening.


Self-screening. A person with a criminal history, say, involving children would probably not apply for a volunteer role involving children if they knew the organization’s policy stated that a Criminal Record Check had to be completed.


In a nutshell, it’s vital for non-profit organizations to make sure that the volunteers they accept are there to perform their tasks and to support the work of the organization and not for some other malicious reason. When you consider the consequences of involving someone in the work of the organization who causes harm to a client, member or participant, or to another volunteer or staff person, the risk to all parties involved, including the organization’s reputation can be huge. 



  • To learn more about Criminal Record Checks in surrounding areas, visit this R.C.M.P. page.


Intervention Record Check
(also sometimes called Child Welfare Checks)


This is a review that is conducted to see if an adult has an existing record with the provincial government’s Children and Youth Services indicating that the person may have caused a child to be in need of intervention, as defined in the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. 


Much like a Criminal Record Check, investigating whether or not a potential volunteer has caused harm to a child is an important tool used to manage risk, and is done for the same reasons as a Criminal Record Check whenever a volunteer will be working with children.



Other forms of screening


Criminal Record Checks and Intervention Record Checks are some of the many ways that non-profit organizations will manage risk when involving volunteers (and paid staff) in their work.  Others include:


  • Volunteer Program Policies: Organizations should have policies and procedures in place that are benchmarks for how to best utilize volunteers and manage risk in their work.

  • Role Descriptions: An organization that utilizes written and well-defined role descriptions will already be on their way to thinking about who would be best suited for a particular position and why. In addition to being a crucial starting point for planning for volunteer involvement, this also excludes the kind of person that is perhaps not suited to the position.

  • Applications: Every volunteer should be completing some kind of application process. This tells the organization who is applying, why and what their qualifications are.

  • Interview: Further to the application, this in-person or by phone conversation provides an opportunity for the organization to ensure the potential volunteer will be a good fit for the organization and the organization will be a good fit for the volunteer.

  • Reference Checks: Following a successful interview, many organizations will conduct reference checks to confirm or clarify what was learned in the interview and to learn more about the potential volunteer.

  • Orientation and Training: Providing this vital support to the new volunteer enables them to perform their tasks adequately and successfully.

  • Ongoing supervision: support and evaluation:  This is necessary for volunteers to continue to be successful in their roles and for the growth of the organization and the volunteer

Do you notice anything familiar with all of these processes?


If you’ve ever held a paid work position, then it is highly likely that you have already been through some or all of these processes. Volunteer staff and paid staff should be treated the same. We’d never hire someone without having all of these checks in place and the same goes for volunteers.

"character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you."

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