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How Volunteer Confidentiality Agreements Can Protect Your Nonprofit

Free Volunteer Confidentiality Agreement Template

For some organizations, volunteering is not as simple as showing up and helping out. If you're asking people to assemble boxes for a food pantry, hand out flyers, or pick up litter, chances are all you need to do is put out an open call.

But if your volunteers will be in your organization's facilities, handling money, or have access to sensitive information, engaging in a certain amount of due diligence is good practice. And when you work with certain groups or in specific industries, laws, and regulations may mandate that you collect specific information, provide disclosures, and have volunteers sign waivers and confidentiality agreements before they can participate.

When Should Volunteers Sign Volunteer Confidentiality Agreements?

When volunteers have access to your data, facilities, people, and processes, requiring people to sign confidentiality agreements before participating is a good practice. In the course of your duties, volunteers may learn things about your organization that could put you in a tough spot if shared with the public. And while they may not intend you harm, a bit of idle gossip that discloses sensitive information could leave you scrambling to do damage control.

A confidentiality agreement informs volunteer candidates of conduct and the consequences if they disclose information. If someone's accidental or deliberate disclosure causes your organization material harm, a confidentiality agreement is essential to take legal action in the future.

Moreover, certain types of volunteer work require confidentiality agreements to comply with the law. For example, enshrined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) are provisions requiring that healthcare organizations cannot disclose an individual's healthcare records without their consent.

Healthcare organizations are also responsible for ensuring that their volunteers adhere to this provision. To do so, many providers require volunteers to complete a HIPAA volunteer confidentiality agreement. In fact, a HIPAA confidentiality agreement for volunteers is considered a best practice for healthcare volunteer management.

Some organizations offer opportunities where a volunteer has an elevated risk of getting hurt. For example, volunteers may be asked to operate machinery like forklifts to help assemble pallets of donated items. In these cases, you'll also want to have volunteers complete a liability waiver. Such a waiver can limit or eliminate the organization's liability if the volunteer gets hurt.

But even if your organization faces no legal liability, the reputational harm from a volunteer getting hurt on-site could be substantial. A mere mention on the volunteer's Facebook page could scare away other volunteers or donors. In fact, it could make growing your volunteer program next to impossible. To mitigate this risk, it's good practice to have candidates sign a volunteer release of liability and confidentiality agreement during your volunteer onboarding process.

In fact, even if all your volunteers are doing is stuffing envelopes, all your volunteers should complete a confidentiality agreement. There are plenty of templates for every type of volunteering activity imaginable. From HIPAA volunteer confidentiality agreements to confidentiality agreements for church volunteers, you can find templates to customize and use for the opportunities you offer.

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What's In a Volunteer Confidentiality Agreement?

You'll want to consult with a lawyer before distributing your confidentiality agreement, especially if you work in highly regulated fields like healthcare or with protected classes. But you can draft a volunteer confidentiality agreement sample independently for their review. Every agreement has some core elements necessary to provide organizations the protection they need.

Party Identification

In any agreement, you'll need to identify the parties involved. In this case, you'll want to include a space for the volunteer's name and your organization. Also, include a space for the name of the employee signing the agreement on behalf of your organization. If you face a lawsuit down the road, knowing whether someone who was authorized to sign on behalf of the organization or not signed may be key to your organization's legal defense. 

Definition of Confidential Terms

Here, you'll want to define what information is considered confidential clearly. This should include, but not be limited to, all employee, donor, client, and financial data, device login credentials, building access codes, and other physical and cybersecurity data. But it also should include information that could put your organization in a bad light.

For example, if your volunteer overhears your Executive Director and Controller engaged in a heated argument, you don't want that shared far and wide. When considering reputational elements, be as specific as possible about the types of information and dissemination methods you deem inappropriate in case you must take action later.

Download a free Confidentiality Agreement template

Scope of Confidentiality

You also want to clearly define the scope of the volunteer's confidentiality obligation. For example, while it may seem obvious that you do not want volunteers posting negative sensitive items about the organization, what about their use of sensitive information? A volunteer might reach out to your donors and pitch their new business. Or they might try to hire your staff who they've met while volunteering. 

You want to clarify to volunteers their constraints on information they learn about your organization. And you want an agreement that they hold you harmless if they face adverse effects while adhering to the agreement. That's why providing a volunteer release of liability and a confidentiality agreement during volunteer onboarding is important.

Exclusions to the Agreement

If you look at a typical confidentiality agreement for volunteers template, it typically contains certain exclusions. For example, you might indicate in your volunteer confidentiality agreement that volunteers are precluded from soliciting your staff. However, if a volunteer has a longstanding friendship with one of your staff members, they should not be precluded from doing so with that staff member. Another common example includes a volunteer compelled to disclose sensitive information due to a court order. Consult with your legal counsel about the exclusions you should incorporate in your volunteer confidentiality agreement.

Term of the Volunteer Confidentiality Agreement

Finally, you'll want to define the term of your nonprofit volunteer confidentiality agreement. Your legal counsel may recommend that the agreement not include a fixed term. But realistically, will you be that concerned if a volunteer shares a negative experience they had at your organization with a friend twenty years down the line? Will you want to police your agreements forever? And will the lack of a fixed term potentially scare some volunteer candidates away?

Forever-term volunteer confidentiality agreements may be advisable depending on the nature of the industry and information. For example, ideally, HIPAA volunteer confidentiality agreements would be regarding patient medical records. A HIPAA confidentiality agreement for volunteers can inform them how they can and cannot use Protected Health Information (PHI) and help hold your nonprofit harmless if they misuse it. 

But for other industries, think about what you want to be kept confidential and what reasonably makes sense to determine an appropriate term for your agreement. For example, staff or volunteers engaged in illicit conduct while participating in a church volunteer program could discourage parishioners from attending service. To manage your church's reputation, you may want to require a confidentiality agreement for church volunteers.

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Creating a Volunteer Confidentiality Agreement

There are many volunteer confidentiality agreement templates available online. But starting with a customizable template developed in consultation with nonprofits and legal experts is best.

Provide your volunteers with easy, secure access to your nonprofit volunteer confidential agreement templates in Get Connected, a leading volunteer management platform. Get Connected offers nonprofit leaders effective volunteer confidentiality agreement samples and a full site of tools that can be used for volunteer onboarding and management.

Get Connected also offers recruitment tools and time-tracking software to help you account for the value of your volunteer time. Whether you're focused on growing your volunteer program or accounting for it, Get Connected has what you need to be successful. And with the volunteer confidentiality agreement samples you need, Get Connected can help you safeguard your organization.

Contact us today to schedule a free demo and grow your volunteer program!

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