Four Ways to Reduce Volunteer Risk
August 17, 2023

Most nonprofits regard their volunteers as invaluable assets. After all, if it weren’t for your volunteers’ dedication and commitment, your organization might have stalled out a long time ago. It certainly wouldn’t have accomplished as many successes!

However, like your paid staffers, volunteers represent some liability risk. For example, an allegation of volunteer negligence or intentional misconduct could motivate litigation against your nonprofit. A volunteer who’s injured while volunteering could sue your organization. And in certain situations, you could be held liable even if a volunteer acted outside the scope of prescribed duties or accepted procedures. Act now to reduce the possibility that a volunteer could threaten your nonprofit’s future.

Adopt Certain Policies

Operating without unpaid help is probably out of the question. But you can use volunteers with greater confidence by adopting these four best practices:

1. Establish a formal volunteer recruitment process. Although the process doesn’t have to be as structured as the one you follow when hiring staffers, document procedures that can be followed consistently. For instance, develop volunteer job descriptions for open positions that outline the nature of the work to be performed, any required skills or experience, and any possible risks the job presents.

2. Screen prospects based on your mission, programs and likely activities. Some positions will pose few risks and your screening process can be relatively basic: Ask candidates to fill out an application and submit to an interview, and then check their work and character references. Positions that carry greater risks — such as work involving children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations, or that provide direct access to cash donations — require a more rigorous process.

3. Provide training, supervision and, if necessary, discipline. Once volunteers are on board, provide an orientation session to explain your nonprofit’s mission, policies and rules of conduct. After volunteers have begun working for you, actively supervise them. This means that staff members should remain in close physical proximity to volunteers or that volunteers can easily contact staff in the event of a problem. If a volunteer acts in a manner that puts your nonprofit at risk, terminate the volunteer relationship.

4. Maintain adequate insurance coverage. In addition to general liability coverage, your nonprofit may want to consider purchasing supplemental policies that address specific types of exposure such as medical malpractice or sexual misconduct.

Get Advice

When establishing volunteer policies, be sure to ask an attorney to review them before you put them in place.

© 2023


You might also like

HR Compliance Alert for Nonprofits

HR Compliance Alert: The Department of Labor’s final ruling regarding the salary threshold for exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has been released. Effective July 1, 2024, the annual salary threshold for exempt status will increase from...

read more
Thinking Ahead to Your Next Form 990

Thinking Ahead to Your Next Form 990

The deadline for most nonprofits to file Form 990 with the IRS (May 15, 2024) has come and gone. Assuming your organization operates on a calendar-year tax basis and filed its Form 990 on time, you probably don’t want to think about tax reporting again until next...

read more
Are Your Volunteers Risking Legal and Tax Liability?

Are Your Volunteers Risking Legal and Tax Liability?

Comprehensive risk management is one of the primary responsibilities of nonprofit leaders. You probably regularly consider and act to mitigate risk to your facilities and assets and your staffers and clients. What about your volunteers? Even though the federal...

read more