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Mistakes Non-Profits Make with Background Checks

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of serving on many non-profit boards; so I understand the daily demands non-profit leaders face. Whether it’s finding volunteers for the next event, fundraising, managing the daily operations, or serving those for whom the organization was started in the first place; it can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned professionals.

Invariably, every legitimate non-profit with a mission to accomplish will hire employees, hire vendors and contractors, and utilize volunteers. Today there are approximately 2 million tax-exempt organizations operating in the US, with over 13 million employees and 65 million volunteers. That’s a lot of people doing a lot of stuff!

So, the heart and soul of your non-profit’s mission rests on utilizing people in various capacities; all 78 million of them! Wouldn’t it make sense to know a little about these people to whom you trust your organization’s resources, reputation, and constituency? With this question in mind, let me describe a few common mistakes non-profits make when it comes to using background checks.

Mistakes Non-profits make when it comes to using background checks:

#1: Not running them because they “KNOW” the applicant!

In the past two weeks I’ve spoken with two organizations that told me they don’t see the need to run background checks since they “know” the people applying for the positions. This reason is often given because there are underlying “unspoken” concerns that background checks are going to be too complicated, take too long to run, won’t find anything, and cost too much. In these cases, I like to share with potential clients about a client we picked up a couple years ago, that made the very same argument against running background checks…

I asked, our then skeptic, to let us run a few for free and then revisit his decision based on the results. It turned out that our very first check on a volunteer applicant, who was volunteering to work with the youth, revealed an under-age sex-offense conviction in a different state from several years earlier. A few checks later, we found another with multiple DUI convictions, this person wanted to drive the church van. Needless to say, this organization is now a client!

Contrary to popular belief, there is no “National Criminal Database” available to the public. So the best criminal information available is a local on-site county court house search, but which ones do you search and how do you go about doing it? That’s where a reputable screening firm comes in handy.

Most background checks that include county searches, take anywhere from a few hours up to a few business days, depending upon the location and availability of electronic records access. When you work with a professional background screening firm, part of their job is to help you navigate the inherent complexities of ordering and help you select only the products you need saving you time and money. And speaking of money, if your organization can afford to buy office supplies, it can afford background checks!

A good background check for non-profits will consist of a Social Security Number and Address History Trace. This information along with sex-offense registries, private and public criminal databases, as well as a search of Federal agencies will help narrow down which counties to search, saving a lot of time and money.

Criminal checks are only part of the picture, and part of the risk to your organization. What about current substance abuse, past civil litigation, bankruptcy, false college degrees, or false professional credentials? All of these can and should be part of a comprehensive and individualized background check program depending upon your organizational and position needs, even if you “know” the applicant. Most people are not going to remember to reveal things they would otherwise like to forget.

#2: Choosing their screening provider based on price.

The next mistake a lot of non-profits make is selecting their provider based solely on a cheap price.

While budgets are a concern for most non-profits, skimping on the background check can easily cost thousands, and perhaps millions, in a negligent hiring lawsuit, not to mention a tarnished brand and damaged public reputation.

While most reputable screening providers are very competitive with their pricing, there’s a good reason to suspect something’s not quite right with a quote that is significantly lower than everybody else. Either you’re not getting an apples-to-apples pricing quote, or shortcuts are being taken that can come back to haunt your organization. A common shortcut is when a less than reputable firm advertises a “Dirt Cheap” background check that supposedly includes an on-site county search. The “red flag” is that often the fees charged by a court house to the screening firm can easily exceed $5, not counting the wage paid to a Court Researcher or wages paid to employees of the screening firm to “Adjudicate” criminal “hits”, review the reporting, and upload the results for the client to retrieve. It’s very likely these “dirt cheap” searches only include a public records database search and nobody is reviewing the results before they are reported to you, the unsuspecting client.

A professional screening firm at a minimum will be members of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), follow industry best practices, maintain top-notch technology for ordering, processing, retrieving, and storing your background check information, and strictly adhere to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). They will have processes in place to verify all results before they are reported, and they’ll make sure a real person is available to answer your questions along the way.

Like most things in life, the old adage is true, “You really do get what you pay for!” While a good background check is not going to be free, it’s also not going to break the bank; and in the long run will actually save your organization’s resources, reputation, and yes, cold hard cash!

#3: Trying to run background checks themselves.

With today’s technology and an internet connection it’s possible to find out lots of information about almost anyone just by doing a simple Google search, or using a free data service. However, what many don’t realize is these types of searches are often outdated, filled with errors, and illegal to use for official organization purposes.

In the fine print of a nationally televised ad for a so-called “Instant Background Check” reads as follows:

[Name omitted] is not a Consumer Reporting Agency, you are prohibited under the FCRA from using any information obtained from the Site about a Search Subject including, but not limited to, information obtained through [Name omitted] Checks, as a factor in determining the Search Subject’s eligibility for: Employment, Tenancy, Education Admission or Benefits, Personal Credit, or Business Transaction.

Basically, this service and others like it are for “Entertainment Purposes Only”. Beware; they’re not legitimate background screening firms!

A reputable screening firm will have access to far more reliable resources than you do through a so-called instant on-line background check service. A reputable firm will also evaluate and report the findings in light of the ever changing laws and regulations that prohibit you from viewing records outside of parameters. For instance, some states do not allow you to view records older than 7 years; while others do not allow you to view records that did not result in a conviction. In almost every situation, a disclosure and release form completed by the applicant is required, informing them of their rights as well as other disclosures as required by Federal, State, and Local law.

These and many other nuances, make it invaluable to work with a reputable screening company that will keep you apprised and compliant with applicable laws and regulations. As always, it’s a best practice to speak with competent legal counsel in your local jurisdiction, and work with a proven and recommended background screening firm that’s more interested in helping your organization be successful than making a buck.

Background Checks are a valuable tool available to every non-profit, and when used correctly they are comprehensive, accurate, fast, and affordable for protecting and furthering the organization’s mission. Yet very few actually use background checks in any form, and even fewer use them correctly. Don’t risk your organization’s resources, reputation, or the public’s safety.

So, you might be wondering, “How do I find a reputable background screening firm?” An excellent source is to contact FRS, and ask to be connected with one of their Preferred Partners. FRS Preferred Partners have been vetted out as the best of the best in the industry; they use the latest technology available, and strive to ensure their clients receive the very best service the industry has to offer.  FRS Preferred Partners are showcased at the website.

I hope this article helps those of you who’ve taken the noble and often unnoticed responsibility to help the nations’ non-profits serve people, changing one life at a time! My sincere thanks to all of you!

Chas Scott, guest blogger here at 

Chas Scott is the president of Edify Background Screening, a Preferred Partner with FRS, and is a member of the NAPBS & Concerned CRAs. Edify Background Screening is a Nationwide, Comprehensive, Fast, & Affordable background screening provider for small and medium sized businesses and non-profits. You can connect with Chas on LinkedIn ChasScott or visit for more information.




It seems the only people who recommend these services are the people like you who sell the services. I do not see any arguments based on statistical evidence, and you provide no data on how many bad things are done by people who HAVE passed background checks - apparently you are not interested in numbers that do not back up your biases. I do not expect this comment to make it to the page - it would not be in your self interest. Your opinion here, however, is nothing but that.
- George
7:39am on Sunday 10th April 2016