Managing Volunteers is a complex process, and we will only touch on the highlights here. However, it is important to preface these remarks on Volunteer Risk Management by pointing out that all Nonprofit Organizations, regardless of their size, must consider risk management in every aspect of the organization's operations. At the very least, every Nonprofit should have a risk management committee, engage in consultation with a risk management/insurance professional, and budget for risk management expenses. This is critical not just for the long-term survival of the organization but is also a social responsibility. An organization without a proper risk management plan and an appropriate insurance program risk becoming a burden to the very community they seek to serve.
Organizations with a heavy reliance on Volunteers cannot avoid risk altogether
It is essential that Nonprofit Organizations understand that the very services they provide have inherent risk. Working in the community and providing vital services require engaging in activities with uncertain outcomes and present unknowable challenges. When adding volunteers to the scenario, the uncertainty may be multiplied.
Many organizations do not engage in proper vetting and training for their volunteers. They do not identify the key activities, services, or programs the volunteer will engage in and provide appropriate training or orientation for those activities. The organization may accept volunteers without aptitude or skills appropriate to their volunteer assignment. The organization may not take attitude or temperament into account when recruiting volunteers.
What are the real risks of not properly vetting and training your volunteers?
Not having a risk management plan that sets out the parameters for training, screening, indoctrinating, and supervising a volunteer can lead to devastating consequences. If the actions of a volunteer lead to harm to a third party, how will the financial consequences of that harm be addressed? What if the volunteer is injured? Who will pay for the volunteer's medical bills?
What to do?
There are countless essays, blogs, and books on risk management. As a practical matter, the starting point will always be the application of "common sense." Provide safety equipment where appropriate. Do create dangerous interactions between the organization's clients. Do not create a situation where volunteers interact one-on-one with clients, especially if the client is a child, elderly or disabled.
- Check volunteer references.
- Always have a formal volunteer orientation.
- Brainstorm. Set up interactive sessions with the volunteers and the risk management committee. Consider volunteer input when setting policies; after all, they are your "boots on the ground."
- Closely supervise your volunteers and provide explicit instruction.
- Terminate volunteers whose continued service creates an unacceptable risk to the organization (however, this course of action creates its own risk challenges).
- Use volunteer applications, waivers and have a handbook that details your organization's policies and behavioral expectations.
Again, this blog barely scratches the surface. Detailed and comprehensive information is available on volunteer risk management and should be accessed and applied to your unique organization's volunteer risk management plan.
And most importantly, work with a Nonprofit Insurance and Risk Management specialist. For more information visit