Volunteers represent the heart of a nonprofit organization. Without a group of dedicated volunteers, your nonprofit would not have the financial resources to achieve its goals. However, volunteers present a liability risk, from a volunteer sustaining one or more injuries while onsite to several volunteers committing acts of intentional misconduct. Just one incident involving a volunteer that costs your nonprofit organization money can turn a successful fundraising drive into a revenue generator that pays for the legal fees associated with a negative volunteer incident.
Let’s look at the four ways to reduce volunteer risk:
1. Establish Volunteer Policies
With the help of an attorney, preferably one who donates time as an in-kind donation, your nonprofit should establish a set of policies that describe volunteer duties, as well as address legal issues such as harassment and discrimination. By clearly defining what constitutes unacceptable behavior, your nonprofit organization can receive legal protections that prevent the filing of civil lawsuits. Volunteer policies also should include language that explains the expectations your nonprofit has for its volunteers.
One of the most important sections of your nonprofit’s volunteer policies is the job description section, which includes information about your nonprofit’s mission and the duties expected for each volunteer position.
2. Require Completion of an Application
Requiring volunteers to complete an application accomplishes two important objectives. First, you gain insight into a volunteer’s background, which includes confirmation from multiple references concerning a volunteer’s skill set and character. Second, an application should include a section that waives your organization’s legal liability for any legal issues that arise from the involvement of a volunteer. Make sure to target the content of an application to the type of position sought by a volunteer. For example, an application for a volunteer responsible for child care should be more complex than the application used to screen volunteers for strictly manual labor work.
3. Properly Screen Candidates
After you obtain the volunteer information presented on applications, conduct a comprehensive screening of each candidate. This is especially important for volunteers that want to help out with a vulnerable segment of the population or have to drive as part of their workload. Nearly 1/3 of all nonprofit organizations do not screen candidates, which leaves them highly vulnerable to legal liability.
Your nonprofit’s volunteer screening process should include a detailed background check, as well as verifying professional credentials such as a contractor license.
4. Offer Thorough Training
You should never allow a volunteer to work unsupervised without first providing comprehensive training. Hand out written materials that explain how volunteers should approach their work. In addition, assign a staff member to provide hands-on training for each type of volunteer position. Training includes defining your nonprofit’s code of conduct. You also should educate each volunteer on how to report any problems.
Create a manual that is similar to the employee manual handed out by for-profit organizations. Use the manual as an educational training tool during orientation, which can be held in both group and one-on-one settings.
At Ernst Wintter & Associates LLP, we provide comprehensive audit, review, examination and compilation services as well as tax services that fit your business needs. Our professionals have specific expertise in the financial services industry, nonprofit sector, and employee benefit plan audit requirements. Please contact us today.