Background Checks for Nonprofit Board Members

When putting together a team to supervise a nonprofit’s money, it helps to know who you’re dealing with…

Nonprofit organizations can do great work in promoting community growth, providing assistance to those in need, and raising money to fund research in the name of bringing solutions to some of the globe’s most comprehensive issues. These organizations must be above reproach, and as such, their board members must be individuals of the highest integrity. That’s why it’s imperative nonprofit organizations establish policy that dictates board members are subjected to a comprehensive background check.

It’s true that there is no requirement for a nonprofit organization to establish a board of directors, but an overwhelming majority of nonprofits do so. This is often a necessity, as many banks will not establish an account for a nonprofit without supervisory leadership. Donors also consider this leadership essential to ensuring their donations are spent wisely and in the best interest of the cause. In addition, organizations that issue grants are more interested in nonprofits in which their monetary awards are also well-managed, due mostly in part to the fact they must answer for how their monies are allocated.  Small business journal, Chron, put it best, “The board’s duties are fiduciary. This means the board is trusted to act in the best interests of its organization, regardless of personal interest.”

A board of directors for a nonprofit is designed to promote progression within an organization by virtue of diverse management and comprehensive collaboration. Because an organization’s supervisory leadership can depend on their ability to serve their cause, that board must have impenetrable integrity. Therefore, even nonprofits cannot afford to skimp on background checks for leadership.

When establishing a board of directors, there are often misconceptions on what a comprehensive background check encompasses. The term “background check” is an umbrella term that can refer to one or all of a list of screening processes that both organizations and corporations use to verify the employability of an individual. This can include a report that offers details on a person’s criminal and employment history, and a review of their financial history.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to cherry pick through the wide range of areas that a comprehensive background check includes, either to save time and/or money, or because only one or two areas of such a report are a priority for board leadership. Areas of high priority include criminal history, sex offender registry, or a basic credit report. Even if a nonprofit checked all of these boxes when conducting a background check, that would still not rise to the standard of comprehensive when verifying a potential board member’s history.

A comprehensive background check includes:

  • Verification of a candidate’s social security number
  • Work history
  • Credit check
  • Driving records
  • Criminal records
  • Information on registered vehicles
  • Relevant court documents
  • Reference quality
  • Asset ownership
  • Military service records
  • Criminal registry information, such as sex offender registry

This list can sound staggering to the member of staff charged with appropriating an organization’s policy to screen a board candidate’s background. Screening a candidate’s background requires thorough research and a cross-reference of information against multiple open sources, such as public records, human sources, and social media. Even if the cost of obtaining supporting documents were not high, the labor hours to internal employees with day-to-day responsibilities can directly contribute to operational losses within a nonprofit organization.

These comprehensive screenings are crucial to the integrity of a nonprofit. After establishing a board of directors, any previously unknown and unflattering information regarding their history that may come to light cannot only be embarrassing for an organization but can negatively impact the support and assistance those nonprofits receive from donors and grant-awarding bodies. If information regarding a red flag in a board member’s history was publicly available (and not sealed by a court of law, or expunged from their record), and negligence occurs on behalf of the board’s supervisory capacity, there can be legal consequences as well. This is why corporations often run comprehensive background checks on their board of directors, or any other supervisory leadership. If for-profit corporations cannot afford to skimp on their background checks, there is no-doubt that nonprofits have even more at stake, including the opportunity to serve their cause.

Operational losses are why it can be prudent to retain an independent investigator to conduct background checks for a nonprofit organization. Firms like those of private investigators or risk assessment specialists can provide another layer of integrity when considering a candidate for board leadership. An external investigator’s independence and autonomy mean they have no stake in the results of a board candidate’s screening, and therefore only have loyalty to the truth. This is where nonprofits can consider candidates with the reassurance they have performed their due diligence, and have done so with the assistance of an objective third-party. All background screenings must be compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act legislation in disclosing the screening to the candidate.

From poor credit to criminal history, no detail is too small when it comes to establishing a board of directors for a nonprofit. Nonprofits may have marketing campaigns, but board diversity and integrity are how they attract monies from grant entities and major donors. That is why a comprehensive background check is an investment for nonprofits that will provide the security of due diligence with the integrity of independent screening.