How to manage charity volunteer risks

How to manage charity volunteer risks

Anything involving negligence on the part of a volunteer implicates the charity to some extent.

In this article, we cover the risks associated with volunteers and how to manage them.

Managing volunteer risk is an essential part of running a charity and can ensure your operations aren’t affected if an unexpected incident were to occur.

Risks associated with volunteers

To identify the risks associated with your volunteers, it might help to ask questions such as:

  • Have volunteers’ roles changed, thereby increasing the risks?
  • Have you had any incidents that highlighted possible risks?
  • Is your charity’s work subject to a new regulatory framework or legislation?

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations considers possible risks, which include:

  • Sub-standard performance by volunteers, resulting in harm to clients, users, participants or the public
  • Client or volunteer abuse (physical, emotional or financial)
  • Misleading or wrong advice and information given to clients or the public
  • Loss or damage to property.

Next, these identified risks need to be assessed. Assessing requires analysing or estimating the chances of something happening and the likely impact if it does. Abuse is an important situation to consider, because if a volunteer was alleged to have abused a service user (regardless of whether they did it or not), it could lead to a full-blown PR disaster for your charity – consider the Oxfam scandal in Haiti which led to resignations by senior staff and a number of celebrities and ambassadors cutting their ties with the charity. Stricter risk-management protocols should be put in place for these high-risk areas.

Volunteer agreements

Once these volunteer risks have been assessed and analysed, it is then a matter of controlling them. A volunteer agreement can be very helpful for defining boundaries and expectations – setting guidelines and parameters, but without implying any ‘contractual obligations’. A signed and dated document record will help to defend your position in the event a volunteer is injured in activity outside their agreement.

Controlling risk through role changes

Controlling risk can also involve looking at the volunteer’s role and making adequate changes, such as allowing volunteers to work in pairs or teams to provide support. Other changes, such as moving a volunteer who has difficulty carrying out a certain task to a different role, or changing the location of an activity run by a volunteer, can also be effective control methods.

Insuring volunteers

Charities are often unsure whether they have to insure volunteers. Legally speaking, your charity doesn’t have to, but you are taking a huge risk if you don’t.

If a service user (or the volunteer themselves) brings a claim against your charity, it could cost thousands to defend. Public liability insurance would, in most instances, cover the costs of defending your charity against allegations of injury or illness caused to a service user by a volunteer. However, injuries to volunteers are often excluded under public liability, and that is why it is important to check that volunteers are covered under the employers liability section of cover, as this does not come as standard.