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Volunteer Risk Management: Protecting Your Organization and Volunteers

All organizations, including those with volunteer programs, face risks daily. It's important that leaders manage or mitigate those risks in order to keep volunteers, staff, and constituents safe. There's a lot at stake for your organization, including physical assets, brand, reputation, grants, donations, relationships, and volunteers. All these factors are vital to your operations, and it's impossible to carry on your good work of helping others without them.

That’s why it’s critical to come up with a solid volunteer risk management and mitigation plan to deal with any potential issues or threats your nonprofit might face.  

 

 

The key to safeguarding your organization is recognizing and identifying the risks, evaluating their severity, and prioritizing and planning for them. Although risk management isn't as easy as identifying and planning, a good volunteer management program can go a long way in helping you handle risks more effectively.

This article explores the ins and outs of volunteer risk management, its importance to your nonprofit, the main risks associated with a volunteer program and actionable strategies to mitigate these risks, and how to come up with a workable volunteer risk management plan.

Article Contents:


What is Volunteer Risk Management?

Nonprofits greatly rely on volunteers and employees for their operations. However, while most nonprofits have risk management initiatives for their paid employees, they tend to overlook their volunteer programs. But volunteers can face many of the same risks as employees of a company. It's therefore important to develop risk management strategies that look after volunteers and clients as well.

Generally, risk management involves the identification of any possible threats or risks to your organization, evaluating the impacts, developing, and implementing measures to mitigate or eliminate the threats or risks. Thus, a volunteer risk management and mitigation program safeguards your volunteers against the effects of accidents, injuries, or other unprecedented incidents.

Importance of Risk Management to Your Volunteer Program

Developing an effective volunteer program takes time, effort, and resources. That's why you cannot afford to overlook an effective risk management strategy. While protecting employees and giving them a channel to express their concerns, risk management also strengthens your organization's vision and mission, enabling you to help others more effectively.

Other benefits of a volunteer risk management strategy include:

  • A safer working environment for you and your volunteers, which helps in attracting and retaining them.
  • Reduced likelihood of accidents, injuries, and incidents, thereby saving you from paying insurance claims.
  • A more informed and involved volunteer team since they're aware of your risk management program and overall organization's mission.
  • Equipping your volunteers with the knowledge they need to recognize and deal with risks in their day-to-day activities so they can take the appropriate steps to mitigate these risks or threats.

Now that you know what a volunteer risk program is and its importance to your organization, let's look at how to develop one.

What Are the Main Components of Your Volunteer Risk Management and Mitigation Program?

An effective and successful risk management program entails plans, policies, processes, and practices. Your volunteer risk management and mitigation plan should revolve around developing, implementing, managing, and reviewing these elements.

Plans

Your volunteer risk management plan should outline the policies, processes, and initiatives for all potential threats. What risks are volunteers likely to face while working in your nonprofit? How can we avoid or mitigate these risks? You should address these critical questions in your plan.

Processes

The processes are actions that your volunteer risk management should implement to deal with or mitigate risk. You’ll need to clearly define your volunteer recruitment, training, performance review, and onboarding processes.

Policies

You must have formal documentation for dealing with risks or threats and rules for implementing the processes. To come up with the best policies for your nonprofit:

  • Understand volunteers' roles, requirements, and expectations in your organization.
  • Document and communicate these roles, responsibilities, expectations, and requirements.
  • Develop a volunteer orientation and training process to avoid the risks brought about by unhappy, untrained, or undertrained volunteers.
  • Solicit feedback from your volunteers. Survey your volunteers to understand the risks they feel are most pressing. Work to identify patterns and prioritize mitigating these risks.

Also, note that:

  • Great policies evolve over time and should match your nonprofit's changing needs.
  • Your policies should be easy to understand and apply to every volunteer. Avoid jargon and unnecessary complications that might comprise your policies' effectiveness.
  • You need to explain the risk management program's rationale, need purpose, and benefits to your volunteers.

Practices

Identify best practices such as volunteer screening and liability waivers for every risk to strengthen your policies, thus the effectiveness of your volunteer risk management plan. How do you intend to interview, recruit, screen, and train volunteers? How will you identify volunteer risks? Is supervision necessary to mitigate risks?

Developing Your Volunteer Risk Management Program

Here are the steps for developing a successful volunteer risk management program:

Identify Your Organization's Potential Risks

This is the basis of your risk management plan. While risks differ among organizations, some common ones include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls.
  • The organization claims against the volunteer due to harm caused by negligence or dishonesty.
  • Motor vehicle accidents.
  • Theft.
  • Claims filed against your organization due to a volunteer's loss or harm.
  • Body injuries.

While identifying risks, it's important to involve everyone, including volunteers, in your organization. Prioritize volunteer feedback and complaints as the basis for your volunteer risk management program.

Analyze and Evaluate the Risks

Once you've identified the organization's potential risks, determine the extent to which they could impact your nonprofit. Then, you’ll want to categorize the risks using a risk management matrix in terms of probability and severity.

Monitor and Reduce the Risks

Risks recur, and managing them isn't a one-time task. Addressing and evaluating potential risks aren't enough. Instead, you’ll need to continue to monitor and reduce risks to mitigate them in the future. This is where you implement your plans, policies, processes, and practices.

Steps for Mitigation Risks Associated With Your Volunteer Program

There are several steps that a successful volunteer risk management program must have to help deal with or mitigate risks that come with working with volunteers. These are:

1. Background Screening

Check all your volunteers for criminal records to avoid working with individuals who present risks to your organization and clients. It's crucial to have a background screening process, policies, and best practices to ascertain the credibility of new and existing volunteers.

2. Training

Your volunteers need to know everything about roles, responsibilities, organization policies, the risk management program, and how to mitigate risks and handle risks using tools like the incident response plan. This is only possible with a formal volunteer training program.

3. Insurance Policy

Risks are inevitable, but there are some you can mitigate with insurance. You need to have a general liability policy to protect the nonprofit if your volunteers sue for property damage or personal injury. Insure your volunteers separately from the organization to avoid sharing your organization's liability.

You can also benefit from volunteer liability waivers to protect your organization from some liability in the event of an accident while also protecting volunteers to an agreed extent. Volunteers need to know about the risks involved and sign the waiver before commencing work.  

The Bottom Line

Risks are inevitable for all organizations, including those that deal with volunteers. But, an effective volunteer risk management strategy can help you identify, analyze, evaluate, monitor, and mitigate risks more effectively. While nonprofits depend on volunteers to do their work, you can't accept everyone that offers to work with or for you. It's important to run background checks, train, and insure volunteers to avoid and mitigate the risks associated with volunteer programs.

Additional Resources

Volunteer Liability Waiver Best Practices

Nonprofit Cybersecurity: 4 Steps to Protect Your Volunteer Data

How to Futureproof Your Volunteer Program in 10 Steps

How to Design a Digital Curriculum for Volunteer Training

Author: Addison Waters