By Lillian Romero & Jessica Gomez-Lizarraga, Esq.
Volunteers play an important role in the nonprofit realm. Many organizations exclusively rely on volunteers to help carry out its mission. A volunteer’s role can range from serving on the Board of Directors, working special events, driving, and providing professional/tech/medical services. Moreover, how a nonprofit utilizes volunteers can grow with the nonprofit.
While it is important for nonprofits to focus on recruiting and retaining good volunteers to help accomplish its mission, nonprofits should also be aware of the risks volunteers can pose.
A nonprofit can still face exposure for the acts of the volunteer to other volunteers, employees, clients, customers, and third parties. A nonprofit can also be liable for failing to properly train its volunteer, negligently hiring or screening volunteers. Further, nonprofits can face employment exposure from their volunteers such as sexual harassment. Nonprofits need to be careful concerning the roles, obligations, duties and compensation, if any, it provides a volunteer in order to avoid blurring the lines between volunteer and employee or even independent contractor status.
Below are basic considerations your nonprofit should consider when dealing with its volunteers.
- Volunteers That Drive– Verify that volunteers who drive their own vehicle on behalf of the organization have adequate insurance; review the volunteer’s driving record (Motor Vehicle Report); create policies and practices concerning driving safely including cell-phone use; consider purchasing non-owned auto insurance that includes coverage for volunteers.
- Keep Your Premises safe– Conduct safety inspections regularly and train your volunteers on the importance of safety protocol.
- Safety Starts At the Top– Your Board of Directors should also be involved with safety discussions. They should have a clear understanding of how volunteers are utilized so that they can make informed policy decisions.
- Volunteer Orientation– Enough time should be spent with a volunteer so that they understand the nonprofits mission and how their role impacts the organization. Volunteers should feel welcomed and understand how the nonprofit operates. Further, volunteers should know who to reach out to in the event that there are problems.
- Adequately Train Your Volunteers– On how to deal with customers/clients in certain situations and emergencies; train volunteers on best practices for events.
- Problem Volunteers– Be in tune with what is going on with your organization’s volunteers; document and review any complaints about a volunteer.
- Clearly Identify the Volunteer’s Role– Outline the purpose of the volunteer position; the physical requirements of the position; location of volunteering; and the responsibilities involved. You may also want to define the limits of the volunteer’s responsibilities.
- Have a Written Policy and Procedure Specifically for Volunteers– a written policy will help demonstrate that you are communicating the rules and responsibilities to volunteers. Make sure that you share the policy with the volunteer and that they sign an acknowledgement form.
- Screen Your Volunteers– Including checking identification and appropriate licenses and certifications; if possible, check references. Depending on your services, you may be required to conduct a criminal background check.
- Minor Volunteers– Make sure that you have a permission slip signed by a parent or legal guardian that clearly describes the minor’s position, their responsibilities, the location, and authorization of emergency medical treatment.
- Document Incidents– Keep a system of recording incidents that includes the date, time, witnesses, circumstances of the injury, whether medical treatment or ambulatory services were needed; and comments from the injured person.
- Train Your Volunteers on Cyber Risk Exposure – Volunteers should understand what they can and cannot do on your computer system. If they are handling private data make sure they are trained on your organization’s protocol and are adequately supervised. Verify that your cyber liability policy includes volunteers.
- Consider a Volunteer Accident Policy– Remember a volunteer who is injured may not be covered under your worker’s compensation policy. Further, adding a volunteer endorsement to a worker’s compensation policy may cost more than purchasing a separate volunteer accident policy.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Volunteers can help or hurt a nonprofit’s mission. It is important to ensure that you assess the roles and responsibilities of the volunteer and prepare for the potential risks. Work closely with your attorney to develop the proper policies or waivers for your volunteers.
Many insurance policies specifically exclude volunteers such as crime (fidelity bond), unless added by endorsement. It is crucial that you notify your broker of the activities that your volunteers provide.
We are here to help. If you have any questions about your organization’s insurance, give us a call.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.