Volunteer Liability Waiver: 5 Best Practices for your Nonprofit

Your volunteers work hard for your nonprofit. But with many activities, there can be risk involved. We’ve compiled five tips for your volunteer liability waiver that will ensure your organization is protected and your volunteers are prepared for their next volunteer opportunity.

What is a volunteer liability waiver?

Volunteers must sign a liability waiver document in order to participate in activities with some risk involved (such as building homes or renovating community spaces). Typically, a volunteer waiver protects a service provider, like your nonprofit, from liability in the event of an accident involving any of your volunteers. In addition, the volunteer waiver should serve as a document of understanding between the nonprofit and its volunteers. It’s important that volunteers are aware of the level of risk involved and are willing to sign a volunteer waiver form before partaking in the activity to ensure your nonprofit and its volunteers are safe from the outset. 

Before we cover waiver best practices, let’s take a look at the types of volunteer liability waivers your organization may use–and we’ve included a sample volunteer waiver form to get you started. 

Types of Liability Waivers 

There are several types of volunteer waivers that your organization or program may choose to use. Here is an overview of the types of waiver forms you may encounter, along with liability  waiver forms templates you can download. 

Simple Liability Waiver

It’s a good idea to have a generic liability waiver handy that you can attach to a majority of your volunteer opportunities. Many of your opportunities may entail general workplace risk that should be covered by your waiver.

Release of Liability 

You may come across the terms “liability waiver” and “liability release.” But what’s the difference? The main difference between a release and a waiver is the transfer of ownership. When rights or liability are waived, the participant (signee) gives up their right to sue the organization. When rights or liability are released, this liability is transferred from one party to another. So, if your organization is holding a charity run, you may ask runners to sign a liability release form; if runners are injured during the event, the liability release form will shift responsibility of injury from your organization to the runner. Many organizations choose to integrate their volunteer liability waiver with a release of liability form. This ensures that the signee waives the right to sue and assumes any risk involved in the volunteer activity. 

Download this generic liability waiver and release form example. This simple liability waiver template may be suitable for many of your volunteer opportunities. However, note that should you identify any volunteer work that involves risk not covered in your simple waiver of liability and release form. 

Role-Specific Liability Waiver 

In some cases, a role may require a waiver that addresses specific risks associated with the volunteer activities. These activities may include:

  • Working with vulnerable populations
  • Working with children 
  • Construction activities (working with power tools)
  • Disaster-response activities 
  • Physical activities (charity run, sports event) 

Volunteers should have a clear understanding of the risks involved in these types of activities before signing the waiver. Many nonprofits choose to include role requirements (i.e. heavy-lifting or experience with young children) and associated risks in the waiver to eliminate the possibility of doubt, misunderstanding, or negligence. If you choose to use the previous volunteer waiver template to formulate a role-specific waiver, be sure to add additional risks and role requirements where appropriate. 

Volunteer Release Form for Minors

Your organization may invite individuals under the age of 18 to participate in your volunteer activities. If this is the case, you should have a separate volunteer waiver of liability and release form for minors. This form should require the signature of the participant and the parent or guardian. Download this Volunteer Release Form for Minors Template

Volunteer Agreement Form

While not as common, a participant agreement is a more encompassing document that may be especially helpful for community organizations and their volunteers. Just the term “waiver” can sound intimidating. While transparency is key (never give a Waiver a misleading title), a participant agreement outlines the relationship between host (your organization) and participant (volunteer). This non profit volunteer agreement form should not only describe the risks involved in an activity (the legal component), it should also describe your organization’s rules for participation. Here are some more components of the nonprofit and volunteer agreement: 

  • Description of activity: Describe activity specifics, including possible conditions (such as hot or cold weather). 
  • Inherent risks: Communicate that your organization cannot guarantee the safety of participants. But your organization and its volunteers can work together to avoid risky behaviors and reduce risk. 
  • Safety rules: Include your organization’s rules to help make the experience a safer one. This section can be especially helpful when working with minors, to ensure children and young adults understand that they are expected to act safely and appropriately. 
  • Participant confirmation: The agreement should also ask volunteers to confirm their ability to participate based on the role description and rules. You may choose to ask volunteers to list any physical conditions or illness if the activity is particularly strenuous. 
  • Permission to treat: This grants the organization to treat a child or adult in the case of an emergency at the cost of the participant or parent/guardian. 

Best Practices for Implementing a Volunteer Liability Waiver

1. Cover your bases

The main goal of your volunteer waiver is to ensure your organization is protected by law, so that you can continue to have a positive impact on your community. The liability waiver should read as exculpatory. In other words, it should be able to clear your organization of fault if an accident occurs. In addition, inform your volunteers that they are not covered under workers’ compensation, and therefore hold no rights under your workers’ compensation policy. While you will need to outline specific risks associated with a particular activity, you should also reference general hazards of volunteering. Be sure to include a waiver expiration date where applicable, if you don’t want it to be in effect forever.

2. Ensure volunteers understand the work

Regardless of the level of risk, your volunteers should understand the nature of the work you’re asking them to do; a volunteer liability waiver is an appropriate place to do so. Your waiver should educate participants, parents and guardians, and volunteers about the nature of the activity, its purpose, benefits, and possible risks. Include descriptions of the activity as specifically as possible, and identify particular risks or harm associated with the activity. Keep in mind that some activities may necessitate their own legal waivers if they are more dangerous than, or unique to, other volunteer opportunities you offer. For example, asking volunteers to drive a vehicle is an activity with unique risks and safety requirements. Detail the following types of information to prepare your volunteers for work specific to the activity:

  • Physical requirements for the job (i.e., minimum weight one must be able to lift)
  • Emotional/mental difficulties that could arise during the activity
  • Locations and environments where work will occur
  • Explanation of the individuals volunteers can expect to work with (i.e. young children)

3. Use clear, straightforward language

It can be tempting to use “lawyer speak” when drafting your waiver. However, it’s more important that participants understand what you’re asking them to sign. In fact, complicated waivers are less likely to hold up in court than their more transparent counterparts. The document should be understandable by a person without legal training. Therefore, you should avoid any unnecessary legal jargon. The same goes for fine print–avoid it! Small print at the bottom of documents comes across as sneaky and dishonest. All writing should be clearly visible so that volunteers know that they can trust your organization.

4. Make sure the documents are easily accessible

Liability waivers–and other accompanying volunteer forms for nonprofit organizations–should be accessible for your volunteers. Likewise, your nonprofit should establish a system to keep all necessary documents and information organized and available to the right individuals. Make sure you and other appropriate staff members can access volunteers’ emergency contact information.

Note: The capability to manage digital waivers is an important part of any volunteer management software. Get Connected’s online waiver feature can automatically ask volunteers to sign waivers when they register for certain activities. You can choose to assign these forms to any opportunities listed on your site. You can also require waivers for minors and limit opportunities to Connect users under 18 years old. The platform organizes electronic waivers automatically. Plus, the software uses e-sign technology so that users can sign required documents on their computers or smartphones and start volunteering!

Get Connected allows volunteers to access and sign waivers easily through any device.

5. Don’t just rely on paperwork

Remember, the safety of your volunteers is paramount. You’re not off the hook just because volunteers signed a waiver. Make sure your organization is properly insured, your volunteers have the appropriate medical clearance to participate, and that you have put measures in place to help ensure the physical and emotional safety or your volunteers.

A volunteer liability waiver is an important component of keeping your volunteers and organizations safe, informed, and responsible. Make sure you cover your bases so that, with the help of your volunteers, your organization can continue to drive positive change in your community.