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VT readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com

~ February/March 2007 ~ Topics

Saving Volunteer Records
Considerations for Volunteer Background Checks
Updating Your Volunteer Application

Dear Connie:

We are a camp for children with special needs that relies on medical professionals to volunteer their time to assist in the needs of the campers. Some of these medical volunteers (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc) are with us a few days, while others may come 1 or more weeks every summer.

How long do I have to keep the volunteers record in my files? This would include their application, physical form, background check and copy of CEU/CMEs they were awarded during our training. I have gotten conflicting answers and would like to know if you have any suggestions.


Dear JF:

Your question about keeping records is a good one! To my knowledge there aren't any federal employment or labor laws that apply BECAUSE volunteers aren't employees. In fact, volunteer program managers are always careful to make that distinction in all things related to volunteers.

Just to be safe, I'd check your state fair labor/employment laws to make sure that there isn't anything on the books relating to volunteer "personnel" records. It's easy to find out about your state's laws. Use the Google search engine on the Archives page. Type the words "state laws" in the search box and presto! You'll be given links to every state judicial system in the country. Then you can search your state's site to see if there are any specific state laws on volunteer record keeping.

If you find nothing, I'd follow the policies for your organization's paid staff AND use common sense. Volunteer applications are easy to fill out again if they are lost or tossed out. Timesheets are harder to re-create, but I probably wouldn't keep them for more than two years maximum. I might keep individual volunteer files for 3 years before tossing them out in case someone misses your program so much that they return sooner than expected. Of course this all depends on the size of your volunteer program. If you have 50 volunteers and very little turnover, it's easier to keep records for almost as long as you wish. On the other hand, if you have 250 volunteers and the program is growing at a rapid pace, you'll need to use your best judgment and good common sense about how long to keep the paperwork.

And, don't forget that technology is your friend. If you're with an organization of some size, you may have the opportunity to scan volunteer records onto a CD for storage and safe keeping.

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Dear Connie:

My organization is planning to begin background checks for both staff and volunteers this year. What advice do you have for me as the volunteer program manager?


Dear AN:

Background checks are very much a fact of life now. While they seem very straightforward for staff, there are some specific things to consider for volunteers:

  • What kinds of volunteer positions require a background check?
  • What is included in the volunteer's background check?
  • Is the information requested relevant to the volunteer position?
  • Who pays for the volunteer's background check?
  • Is the volunteer's background check (1) required by law? (2) required by organization policy?
  • Is a volunteer's permission required before performing a background check?
  • Do prospective volunteers have the right to dispute inaccuracies in a background check and to receive a copy of their report?
  • How is the volunteer's privacy protected – who sees the volunteer's application, where is it stored, who has access to it, will it be sold or shared with other institutions?
  • What, if any, steps are taken to safeguard the volunteer's background check report?

You may meet some resistance from long-time volunteers who will wonder why their background needs to be checked now since they’ve been volunteering for the organization for a long time. I recommend framing this new policy as one that your organization has adopted and it is being implemented for both existing staff as well as volunteers.

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Dear Connie:

I am updating my volunteer application. Are there any new questions I should add?


Dear AR:

One of my clients recently updated their volunteer application and added a section that I really like called "Previous Experience." We usually ask for any previous employment or volunteer experience, but they expanded this section by adding the following:

Service as a volunteer, mentor, or coach
Hobbies that relate to our mission
Drama or other public speaking or performance experience
Foreign language(s)
Experience with special needs groups

Each of the above categories provide space to give a brief description, name of organization, years of service or participation, etc. You could add categories that relate specifically to your organization and “mine” more information about potential volunteers.

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Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299

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