After a long year away from your volunteers during COVID, it’s wonderful to see their faces back at your nonprofit’s site. However, their return brings an increased risk of liability. Just as employees could sue you for injuries or other harm contracted while on the job, volunteers can pin you with a lawsuit. Nonprofit audit and broker dealer audit experts alike suggest having processes in place to reduce the risk of lawsuits from all stakeholders.
What are the risks?
Your volunteers could hold your nonprofit liable for negligence or intentional misconduct. Regardless if these turn out to be false accusations, your nonprofit might have automatic responsibility, even if volunteers are harmed while performing duties outside of what they’re prescribed. The unfortunate truth is that regardless of your nonprofit’s “approved” operations, you could be held liable.
The best you can do is manage volunteer-related risks, because nonprofits rely on unpaid help to keep operations rolling. Adopting certain practices recommended by California nonprofit audit providers can help mitigate chances of liability, so long as you have input from legal counsel.
How can nonprofits mitigate risks?
Create a volunteer recruitment process almost, if not exactly, as formal as hiring an employee. Also make the onboarding and hiring structures the same. Create job descriptions for open volunteer positions that specifically outline the work to be performed, all required skills and prior experience, and make the associated risks straightforward. Volunteers should know everything needed before they take on the role. An audit for your nonprofit can be necessary in creating an airtight screening process.
Tips for screening volunteers:
- Ask candidates to fill out an application and attend an interview
- Check their work and character references
- Have a more rigorous process for roles that carry greater risks (e.g. work involving children, the elderly, and vulnerable populations)
Once volunteers are on board:
- Provide training, supervision and, if necessary, discipline
- Have an orientation session to explain your nonprofit’s mission and policies
- Once volunteers begin working, supervise them
Do nonprofits need insurance?
It’s vital to have adequate insurance to protect against lawsuits. Your nonprofit should consider general liability coverage and supplemental policies for specific types of exposure, like medical malpractice or sexual misconduct. For help identifying risks you might not have considered, reach out to your current insurance provider.