Nonprofit risk management: Smart volunteer strategies

August 19, 2015

If your nonprofit is like most, volunteers are an indispensable part of your operation. That’s even truer since the 2008 recession, when smaller budgets forced many nonprofits to rely even more heavily on volunteers. In the years since, the changing economic landscape has caused some dramatic shifts in the volunteer workforce. Today, there are still plenty of unemployed and underemployed people out there who want to stay active and get involved. In some cases, well-qualified volunteers are performing duties traditionally done by staff members. And, in many cases, volunteers work remotely without a lot of direct supervision.

Bottom line: Your volunteer workforce is evolving – and that means your risks are evolving too.

It’s natural to want to take a more casual approach to managing volunteers than your private sector counterparts do for managing employees. But with the changing realities of the volunteer workforce, it’s more crucial than ever to take your risk management strategies seriously. For example, an unemployed worker who wants to volunteer may not have health, accident, or disability insurance, so his or her activities could increase your financial and insurance-related risks.

Here are six tips for managing today’s evolving volunteer workforce:

1.     Choose your volunteers wisely. If you try to accommodate everyone who wants to volunteer, you’ll likely end up with some who aren’t suitable for your organization. So be diligent about gathering information from applicants through detailed applications and interviews, conducting background checks, asking for references, and taking other precautions to get the best candidates.

2.     Match the volunteer to the job. Every volunteer position needs a detailed position description that clarifies the nature, expectations, and possible consequences of the assignment. Require applicants to provide detailed information about their skills and experience so you can use them most effectively.

3.     Provide thorough training on all duties, responsibilities, and safety protocols; how to react to hazards and incidents; and how to treat your clients. Adequate training is key to reducing your risks and costs, bolstering your reputation, and protecting your mission.

4.     Protect your data. Costly and intrusive data breaches are on the rise, so if you have volunteers who use your IT resources and/or have access to sensitive information, make sure you have security procedures in place to protect sensitive data and control its usage.

5.     Help them succeed by providing plenty of direction about what’s expected, supervision and encouragement appropriate to the position, and information through orientations, handbooks, and meetings. Partner new volunteers with experienced workers to provide guidance and minimize rookie mistakes.

6.     Protect yourself with the right insurance. Nonprofits face lawsuits and insurance claims more often than you might think, so you need custom-tailored insurance coverage to protect your limited assets.

Is your nonprofit prepared for these evolving risks?

Volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofits, but the evolving nonprofit volunteer workforce requires an evolving risk management strategy. Heffernan's Nonprofit Practice offers a wide range of nonprofit insurance products to fit your needs and budget so you can continue the vital work your clients count on.