More than six million Australians donate their time and skills in the NFP sector each year. Most are well-intentioned, but one rogue can inflict serious damage.

    Legislation requires background checks for some volunteer roles, but screening alone can’t stop a bad apple.

    Acceptable criteria will differ from organisation to organisation, so having an agreement at board level about who’s appropriate and who’s not is important.

    CEO of Volunteering Australia, Brett Williamson spoke to the AICD about recruiting, training and retaining the right volunteer for your organisation.

    Which background checks are mandatory?

    Working with vulnerable people – children, the disabled and those in aged-care – are the most common due diligence checks. Most NFPs also screen volunteers who deal with finances or drive motor vehicles.

    Many former prisoners volunteer, so a criminal record shouldn’t prevent them planting trees or coaching a footie team. But legislation varies from state to state. In some jurisdictions, volunteers who work with children may only need to sign a declaration that they’re fit and proper; others require a full criminal record check.

    Is screening enough?

    Just because someone passes a police or working with children check doesn’t mean you’ve fulfilled your obligations. Each NFP needs to set specific criteria for volunteers as part of its risk management and workforce planning strategies.

    Screening is only part of a suite of processes that include recruitment, induction, training and retention. Volunteer engagement is important, but you also need ongoing supervision and appropriateness for the task. Best practice means having all checks and balances in place.

    Can the process be improved?

    Consistent national legislation would be fantastic because everyone would be on the same page, it would reduce red-tape and hopefully encourage more people to volunteer.

    More information:

    Volunteers Australia has developed National Standards for volunteers in NFP organisations.
    For a summary of background check requirements in each state.

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