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Protect or Exclude? The Ethics and Real Risk of Over-Screening Volunteers

Protect or Exclude? The Ethics and Real Risk of Over-Screening Volunteers

Worried man

As organizations strive to meet funder guidelines, legal compliance and internal requirements, the notion of “risk” can become a growing spectre. This leads to rampant over-screening of volunteers that creates barriers for candidates and slows down processes in the name of ‘protecting’ organizations. In this Ethics column, author Sammy Feilchenfeld argues that it is time to reconsider the ethics behind extensive screening procedures for volunteers and ask the question: Who do we really protect, or harm, with these practices? 

To read the full article

Thu, 11/16/2023

Excellent article Sammy touching on all of the swings and roundabouts that spin around in my own head & heart, discussions in my organisation and among peers. 

One of our programs that relies on volunteers is funded by the government who have a clause to police check all of these volunteers. This requirement reduced our active volunteer cohort by at least 25% when it was introduced and had a large knock on effect on the community members involved. Our hands were tied and the feeling we have is deflated and frustrated. 

An important topic and I appreciate the way you have presented the many aspects.


Fri, 11/17/2023

Thank you Emma! I'm not surprised to hear about the reduction in active volunteers from this change. In Toronto we find a lot of insurance providers are requiring certain organizations to request the most detailed police check...even if it's not needed! My hope is that continued advocacy can make for more systemic change and reducing barriers!

Thu, 01/11/2024

Thanks Sammy - this is such a great article. 

I work for an organisation who aim to break down systemic barriers for people experiencing disadvantage through our advocacy and policy work. But I find the rigorous screening we require is actually a paradox and does not uphold what we advocate in the community. We  must walk the talk.

It is an issue the volunteer engagement team are continually challenging and pushing back on to ensure greater opportunities for a more diverse range of people to volunteer. It can be frustrating and demoralising for us and potential volunteers.

Tue, 01/23/2024

Thank you Tracey! I hear about this sort of thing all the time - you're absolutely right, you can't have an organization's mission focused on removing barriers but then create barriers for people wanting to volunteer. It's great that you're continually challenging and pushing back, and hopefully more people will continue to do so until change happens!