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Improving Security with Integrated Background Checks
By: Kelly Durie

Many of you know the importance of church management software (CMS), and that same amount knows that doing thorough background checks on staff and volunteers is absolutely necessary, as well. But when you merge the two into an easy and friendly format, it's an unbeatable combination.

Yes, CMS with integrated background checks. Brilliant! Use technology to streamline the tedious job of screening applicants, maintaining a database, and keeping files on all the church's staff and volunteers.

On average, a large church may get as many as 25 volunteer applications per week. That's a lot of people wanting to serve God, which is the good news.

However, that personal information needs to be entered into your CMS and then re-entered into a background checking site. It's time-consuming, the data is in two separate systems, and you need to maintain a tracking mechanism to manage the process and keep notes on the results.

Then, once you've done all that, anniversary dates come up for staff and volunteers and you get to jump on the mouse wheel again. Don't feel bad. Only a few years ago, most screening companies performed background checks for churches in an inconsistent, slow, manual, expensive, and paper-intensive way.

Today, new challenges arise for churches and the need to keep their ministry and personal data safe while adhering to the latest laws and mandates for due diligence purposes. These demands are driving screening programs to become more complex to help church staff better cope with new concerns.

Limited budgets, increasing regulatory requirements, and the need to do more with less while fulfilling your personnel needs are just a few reasons for integrating background checks with CMS.

"Having background checks tightly integrated with Fellowship One allows us to provide a church with a seamless process for evaluating new volunteers and re-qualifying existing ones. This is a vital first step in providing a safe environment at a church," said Curtis Simmons, director of marketing and community with Fellowship One.

How Do Integrated Background Checks Work?
As requirements and expectations have intensified, automation and integration technologies have been born and are evolving. Integration with a featured background check provider will take the headaches and data entry out of ordering a background check or employment screening request.

You'll be able to place an order with just a few clicks from within your CMS people/volunteer database and all required information (such as name, date of birth and address, including the background check authorization form) will be collected directly from your applicant in your current system.

Sally Grantham, senior project manager with R&D, ACS Technologies, opted to integrate background checks into their CMS.

She said, "We decided to build an integrated background check solution to fulfill a top priority request from our clients. They needed a way to easily request background checks, review them, and manage the data. With our integration, we have been able to fulfill this need. Our background checking provider not only produces the reports, they expertly assist our clients with the processes and procedures around requesting and reviewing the data. By using our software to manage the steps and the reports, our clients are able to easily get one step closer to keeping their ministries safe."

Benefits of Using Integrated Background Checks
Probably one of the best management solutions created by CMS is the ability to manage people and how they currently are engaged in your ministry.

Volunteer management systems (VMS) are the perfect connection point for integrating the background check requirement. The principal function of a VMS is to provide a central location and database for a church's recruitment efforts. This helps to improve accuracy and consistency, reduces workload, and reduces the likelihood of errors. It also helps with file management and process efficiency.

With integrated background checks, the report that you pull on an applicant stays with that applicant in the VMS. Most of the data you need to enter for a background check is already in the church management software database, so there is no need to enter the personal information twice. No need to keep spreadsheets, import files, or compare hard-to-read data.

Automated reports for rechecking the background check each year is also an important feature. Customized reports (such as anniversary date reminders to recheck criminal backgrounds, sex offender registries, and driving records) are essential for consistency.

You have a ton of data. It's locked away in spreadsheets, databases, proprietary software, e-mails, and probably sticky notes posted all over your desk. To make effective decisions, you need to make sense of all that information. But to bring all that data together to make reports, especially monthly or weekly, can be overwhelming. Automated reporting will make your life much easier.

Better security that is auditable is also achieved. Churches improve the accuracy and consistency of screening across the organization. It's best if you screen all staff and volunteers that are active with the church, even those that have worked with the church for many years and have never been screened.

Screening should not be limited to those who have direct access to the children. Children trust adults who work in the church, usually without question. So, you really need to screen all adults and minors who have direct or indirect access to children, youth, or vulnerable adults.

Liability is also lessoned as you avoid hiring applicants whose background check reveals issues that do not meet set requirements. As an organization, there needs to be sound risk management procedures, including a Child Protection Policy, that is followed by all.

Although no background check is foolproof, experience shows that requiring one as a part of the selection process is beneficial in maintaining a safe environment. Think of background checks as your first line of defense.

What If You Don't Have CMS?
There are offerings for you, too. Technology progression and advancements are almost always necessary to keep a church going. Unfortunately, improved technology can be daunting to take on and learn. Other obstacles are cost, equipment, and training.

Consent2Screen.com was recently launched to provide a service to those churches that are currently not using Church Management Software. This site allows you to manage your applicants and their background checks in a central, web-based environment. Fairly simple and cost-effective, all you need is a computer and Internet connection.

One time-saving feature within this website is paperless consent forms. Yes, less paper, less printing costs, less filing, less potential for identity theft, less mess piling up on your desk. Typically, a paperless consent form can be read and agreed to online by the applicant, and then signed in a signature box with the mouse of a computer.

Using a 50-state compliant automated and paperless consent form can eliminate the need to manage all your current paper consent forms and the entire process of getting them signed. Your volunteers type their personal data in a secure online environment and the system captures their signature for authorization. Instantly order the background check as soon as they sign and submit.

A safe and secure ministry is truly the goal. Search the past of your staff and volunteers to secure the future of your ministry. And, with the right tools such as integrated background checks, the process of hiring staff and engaging volunteers becomes easier and safer.

Kelly Durie is vice president of public relations for SecureSearch, a premier national pre-employment and volunteer screening company for churches, www.securesearchpro.com.

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