What are background checks?

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Background checks are an increasingly common part of the modern world, used by organizations and individuals alike to learn more about someone’s past behavior, reputation, and qualifications. But what exactly are background checks, and how do they work?

At a high level, a background check is an investigation into someone’s past. The specific information will depend on the purpose of the check and the context in which its being conducted. For example, a criminal background check might search for any past criminal convictions or charges. While an employment background check might verify education and employment history.

In the United States, many laws and regulations govern how background checks can be conducted and what information can be obtained. For example, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets forth requirements for conducting background checks for employment. At the same time, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) restricts access to certain personal information obtained from state motor vehicle records.

So what information might be included in background checks? 

Here are some common types of information that might be included:

Criminal history background check:

  • A criminal background check might reveal any past criminal convictions or charges, including misdemeanors and felonies. The check might also reveal any outstanding warrants or pending criminal cases.
    • Consider a Fair Chance Program! Fair Chance is an approach that provides opportunities to individuals previously incarcerated or with a criminal record. It recognizes that individuals with a criminal record may face significant barriers, even after paying their debt to society. Fair Chance involves removing questions about criminal history from applications, delaying background checks until later in the hiring process, and giving individuals with a criminal record a fair chance to be considered based on their qualifications and abilities. Fair Chance aims to reduce recidivism, promote social justice, and provide opportunities for individuals to rebuild their lives and contribute to society.

Other kinds of background or reference checks:

  • Employment history: This might verify an individual’s work history, including previous employers, job titles, and dates of employment. It might also verify education credentials and professional licenses.
  • Credit history: A credit background check might reveal an individual’s credit history and credit score, including any missed payments, defaults, or bankruptcies.
  • Driving record: A driving record check might reveal any past traffic violations, accidents, or license suspensions.
  • Social media and online presence: An online background check might review an individual’s social media profiles, blogs, and other online presence to assess their online behavior and reputation.
  • References: A reference check might involve contacting individuals who can provide information about an applicant’s past employment, character, and reputation.

Learn more about Background Checks from our partner Checkr.

Use Volunteer Background Checks Wisely

It’s important to note that each type of background check has its own limitations. And no single check can provide a complete picture of an individual’s past behavior and qualifications. For example, a criminal background check might not reveal any arrests that did not result in a conviction or any criminal activity that occurred outside of the jurisdiction where the check was conducted.

In addition, background checks can be controversial, as they can raise concerns about privacy, discrimination, and accuracy. For example, a criminal background check might unfairly penalize someone for a past mistake, while a credit background check might disproportionately affect people with lower incomes or credit histories.

To address these concerns, many laws and regulations have been implemented to ensure that background checks are conducted fairly and accurately. For example, the FCRA requires that employers obtain an individual’s consent before conducting a background check and that they provide the individual with a copy of the report and an opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies.

Overall, background checks are an important tool for nonprofits to learn more about someone’s past behavior, reputation, and qualifications. However, it is important to use them responsibly and comply with applicable laws and regulations. And it’s important to recognize that a background check is just one piece of information and should not be used as the sole basis for making important decisions.

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Photo Brandy Strand
Brandy Strand
Nonprofit Partnerships Account Executive

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.