Background Checks for Non Profits: Special 501(c)(3) Search Method

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | April 28, 2022

Performing proper background checks for non profits is just as important as performing one for a for-profit business. Not only does it ensure that other employees and volunteers in the organization remain safe but it also protects the company from potentially expensive legal liabilities.

In fact, many nonprofits are required by law to perform volunteer background checks. But, there’s a “special” search method for 501(c)(3) classified organizations that make it easy to comply with both transparency and trust procedures.

Make no mistake, the foundation of any non profit is a deeply-held trust. Therefore, the types of background checks used will vary and need to be performed based on the individual, non-profit position, and organization at hand.

Simply put, the exact search method used will depend on several factors below. For example:

  • A high level treasurer should undergo a detailed fingerprint (level 2) criminal background check, that also examines federal databases, including any Debarred Companies list. This prevents being denied federal funding.
  • The same is true for any individuals or volunteers who work near or around vulnerable segments of the society, such as the elderly and children. A comprehensive background search, which also examines child and elder abuse registries is crucial for maintaining transparency.
  • Caregiver background checks and other tailored searches provide the due diligence required to protect non profits that perform charitable acts for the elderly.
  • Likewise, Level 2 healthcare background checks for non profits, including the Fraud Abuse Control Information System (FACIS) ensure that a person hasn’t been debarred from federal support and meets all the professional license verification requirements.
  • In addition, it’s wise to run a check of any third party providers, such as contractors, using the System for Award Management (SAM) ‘Do Not Pay’ reference list.

The following guide outlines everything involved with performing background checks for non profits, as well as what volunteers and salaried employees can expect.

What Do Non Profit Organizations Check on Background Screenings?

The background check for a nonprofit is very similar to what one might expect from a traditional pre-employment background screening. However, in many cases non profit organizations may work with certain at risk groups.

Non profit background check graphic explaining what do non profit organizations check on background screenings, including background checks for non profit volunteers that include criminal records, identity, address, and education verification, as well as employment history and child abuse and sex offender registries on background checks for non-profit volunteers.

Background checks for non profits that deal with vulnerable groups may require additional checks compared to a normal pre-employment background check.

There are several checks that are standard for both employees and volunteers of a nonprofit organization. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Criminal Record History Information
  • Identity Verification (Social Security Number Lookup)
  • Address Verification
  • Education Verification
  • Employment History
  • Child Abuse Registries
  • Sex Offender Registries

Depending on the nature of the non-profit and the position that the individual will be working in, additional checks may be recommended or even required by law, such as if the organization works with children.

What Shows Up on a Background Check for Non Profit Volunteers?

The background checks performed for non profit volunteers is the same as the background check required for employees of the same organization.

Not only are background checks performed to make the existing employees feel safe and comfortable, they also play an important financial role for the company. Anyone associated with the organization is part of their responsibility, and the actions of all official personnel (volunteer or not) present a liability.

For example if a volunteer is driving a company car in an official capacity while intoxicated and gets in an accident, the company is just as liable for the accident as they would be if a paid employee was doing the same thing.

What shows up on a volunteer’s background check depends on the check that the company chooses to perform.

The following searches are standard for most organizations, and many states offer free or discounted background check costs for non profits.

Criminal History Check

Checking the criminal history information of all prospective employees and volunteers is arguably the most important part of any background checks for non profits (how to find out if someone is a felon). This not only keeps other volunteers and employees safe but also will make any liability issues with the employee clear.

Criminal history checks for non profits should include both local and national checks. Although local checks are a great place to start, they will not show criminal history information from places outside of the state. So if a volunteer committed a serious crime in another state, that information will be absent from a local check.

Federal criminal history checks may also be necessary, especially if the non-profit operates in several states. However, the rarity of federal crimes makes this check slightly less necessary than a national criminal history check.

A national check is performed using fingerprints.

Identity Verification

Verifying the identity of an individual is one of the most basic checks that are performed as part of a background check. The purpose is to simply ensure the individual is who they claim to be by verifying their social security number.

This also ensures accurate information is returned in the criminal history check, just in case the person is attempting to use an alias.

Address Verification

Verifying the address of the individual is an important part of verifying their identity. Furthermore, verifying any address they have lived at in the last 5 years also aids in the criminal history information check, as the agency can be sure to check if the individual committed any crimes at their previous address, if it was in a different state or county.

Education Check

An education check is not quite as common as the above checks, simply because the information is not always relevant. However, if the position requires a certain level of education or the completion of certain licenses or certifications, a check of these credentials will certainly take place.

Employment Check

The last of the standard checks, an employment history check is performed to ensure that the individual is not lying about their experience and to find out where they work currently. This usually entails contacting the previous employer to ensure they worked where they said they did, as well as check that they performed any duties that they have claimed.

Certain non-profits may have additional checks performed on some or all volunteers and employees. The two most common additional checks are a check of an individual’s driving record and a child care and caregiver related checks.

A driving record check (MVR background check) is normally performed on employees who will be operating vehicles for a company.

Finally, there are several additional checks associated with individuals who work with children. These include:

  • Sex Offender Registry check
  • Child Abuse and Neglect Registry check
  • FBI Fingerprint check

The specific laws regarding what needs to be checked for individuals who work with children vary from state to state, so it is important to check local laws to get a better understanding of what is required.

child care .gov screenshot for how far back does a backgorund check go for non profits

The U.S. government provides links for non-profits to check state resources for a number of services for children.

How Long Do Background Checks for Non-Profits Take?

A background check for a non profit should not take any longer than a pre-employment background check.

In general, for a standard background check they should be completed in less than a week and often in less than 48 hours. More advanced checks, such as the FBI fingerprint check, may take additional time to process but should not take longer than two weeks.

Related Reading:

How Far Back Does a Background Check Go for Non-Profits?

Local and state laws, as well as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, will determine how long background checks will go. In general the criminal history check is the only check that is subject to time limits. In most states, criminal history information must abide by the seven year rule.

The seven year rule states that criminal history information on crimes that were committed more than seen years ago can not be reported as part of a background check.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, usually involving the annual salary of the position but in general a background check will go back 7 years for criminal history.

Education and employment checks are not subject to this time frame.

FBI Criminal history check for non profit background checks screenshot

When conducting a non profit background check, many states require a full fingerprint background check to be performed.

Common Best Practices for Non Profit Background Check Policy

A non-profit background check should include all the basic checks such as criminal history information and basic identity and address checks.

Sex Offender registry checks are also quick and easy and should be a part of most if not all background checks as well. Beyond the basic checks, the specific job duties and the nature of the non-profits work will determine if any additional checks are necessary. Volunteer jobs for companies that deal with children, the elderly, heavy equipment, harmful materials, or any healthcare related field will all be subject to additional checks.

sex offender registry as part of the free background checks for non profits

Free Background Checks for Nonprofits and Charity Background Check Screening

State volunteer background check services are a great place to start when conducting a background check for a non profit company.

Every state has a volunteer background check which can be accessed online. In general these checks are performed by the state police department. However many states will rely on a different agency such as the Department of justice or even a department that specifically oversees issues dealing with non profit organizations in the state.

Specific steps for these checks are outlined below.

Step 1. Obtain Consent

Background checks for nonprofits cannot be performed with the individual’s consent.

Step 2: Access the Proper website.

The first step is to locate the state agency in charge of volunteer background checks. (Use the table below to choose the correct link for the state)

Step 3: Select the Correct Form

Many states offer specific background checks for various reasons. These other background checks will likely be options on the state website to be sure to select the check that is used for volunteers.

Step 4: Follow Specific Steps for Each State

Each state will have a slightly different process and may require slightly different information. In general expect to enter basic contact information and a social security number.

Some states may require fingerprints, in this case specific steps on where to get fingerprinted and where to send the completed forms will be provided on the website.

State Background Check for Non ProfitsNon Profit Background Check Form and Website
Alabama Background Check Free for Non ProfitsAlabama Non Profit Background Form
Alaska Background Check Free for Non ProfitsAlaska Non Profit Background Form
Arizona Background Check Free for Non ProfitsArizona Non Profit Background Form
Arkansas Background Check Free for Non ProfitsArkansas Non Profit Background Form 
California Background Check Free for Non ProfitsCalifornia Non Profit Background Form
Colorado Background Check Free for Non ProfitsColorado Non Profit Background Form
Connecticut Background Check Free for Non ProfitsConnecticut Non Profit Background Form
Delaware Background Check Free for Non ProfitsDelaware Non Profit Background Form
Florida Background Check Free for Non ProfitsFlorida Non Profit Background Form
Georgia Background Check Free for Non ProfitsGeorgia Non Profit Background Form
Hawaii Background Check Free for Non ProfitsHawaii Non Profit Background Form
Idaho Background Check Free for Non ProfitsIdaho Non Profit Background Form
Illinois Background Check Free for Non ProfitsIllinois Non Profit Background Form
Indiana Background Check Free for Non ProfitsIndiana Non Profit Background Form
Iowa Background Check Free for Non ProfitsIowa Non Profit Background Form
Kansas Background Check Free for Non ProfitsKansas Non Profit Background Form
Kentucky Background Check Free for Non ProfitsKentucky Non Profit Background Form
Louisiana Background Check Free for Non ProfitsLouisiana Non Profit Background Form
Maine Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMaine Non Profit Background Form
Maryland Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMaryland Non Profit Background Form
Massachusetts Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMassachusetts Non Profit Background Form
Michigan Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMichigan Non Profit Background Form
Minnesota Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMinnesota Non Profit Background Form
Missouri Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMissouri Non Profit Background Form
Mississippi Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMississippi  Non Profit Background Form
Montana Background Check Free for Non ProfitsMontana Non Profit Background Form
Nebraska Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNebraska Non Profit Background Form
Nevada Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNevada Non Profit Background Form
New Hampshire Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNew Hampshire Non Profit Background Form
New Jersey Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNew Jersey Non Profit Background Form
New Mexico Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNew Mexico Non Profit Background Form
New York Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNew York Non Profit Background Form
North Carolina Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNorth Carolina Non Profit Background Form
North Dakota Background Check Free for Non ProfitsNorth Dakota Non Profit Background Form
Ohio Background Check Free for Non ProfitsOhio Non Profit Background Form
Oklahoma Background Check Free for Non ProfitsOklahoma Non Profit Background Form
Oregon Background Check Free for Non ProfitsOregon Non Profit Background Form
Pennsylvania Background Check Free for Non ProfitsPennsylvania Non Profit Background Form
Rhode Island Background Check Free for Non ProfitsRhode Island Non Profit Background Form
South Carolina Background Check Free for Non ProfitsSouth Carolina Non Profit Background Form
South Dakota Background Check Free for Non ProfitsSouth Dakota Non Profit Background Form
Tennessee Background Check Free for Non ProfitsTennessee Non Profit Background Form
Texas Background Check Free for Non ProfitsTexas Non Profit Background Form
Utah Background Check Free for Non ProfitsUtah Non Profit Background Form
Vermont Background Check Free for Non ProfitsVermont Non Profit Background Form
Virginia Background Check Free for Non ProfitsVirginia Non Profit Background Form
Washington Background Check Free for Non ProfitsWashington Non Profit Background Form
Washington D.C. Background Check Free for Non ProfitsWashington D.C.  Non Profit Background Form
West Virginia Background Check Free for Non ProfitsWest Virginia Non Profit Background Form
Wisconsin Background Check Free for Non ProfitsWisconsin Non Profit Background Form
Wyoming Background Check Free for Non ProfitsWyoming Non Profit Background Form

Although it may not seem necessary, background checks for non profits are just as important as checks for other businesses, which can save the organization thousands in potential legal fees.

Frequently Asked Questions About Background Checks for Non Profits

Do NGOs do background checks?

Yes, although they are not always required the majority of non governmental organizations (NGOs) will perform background checks on both employees and volunteers.

Does Volunteers of America do background checks?

Yes, Volunteers of America performs background checks on all of its volunteers and employees. However, Volunteers of America is a second chance employer, so former felons will not necessarily be taken out of consideration automatically.

Are background checks required for public companies?

There are no federal or state laws that require background checks for public companies. In general, background check requirements are determined as part of company policy. Certain industries have background check requirements as well, such as the health care or child care industries.

Does FCRA apply to volunteers?

Yes, the background check regulations that are part of the FCRA apply to non profit organizations.