Your volunteers generously give their time and take on a wide variety of activities that are critical to your mission. Some of these activities may involve risk of injury. As examples, nonprofits use volunteers to do construction-related work, operate forklifts, pack heavy boxes, drive and drop food off or provide home based care to senior citizens. Depending upon the nature of the work that your volunteers undertake, it’s important that you protect your organization and give volunteers a clear understanding of the kinds of tasks that they are likely to do. Volunteer liability waivers are a great way to do this.
What is a volunteer waiver of liability?
Volunteers must sign a liability waiver document before participating in some of your activities which involve any kind of risk. As abundant precaution, you may want to get all volunteers to sign a liability waiver. This may be a requirement from your insurance provider too. So check on that.
Typically, a waiver protects your nonprofit, in the event of an accident involving any of your volunteers. It should also serve as a document of understanding between your nonprofit and your volunteers. It’s important that volunteers are aware of the risks involved and are willing to sign the waiver before taking part in the activity.
We’ve got some tips and best practices for volunteers and waivers. So read on.
1. Keep it simple, but cover your bases
The actual language in the waiver document may vary depending upon your organization’s mission. But make sure that you cover the basics. Make sure that your waiver ensures that your organization is protected by law, so that you can continue to have a positive impact on your community. Your waiver should be able to clear your organization of fault if an accident should occur. Make sure that you tell your volunteers that they are not covered by your workers compensation. Make sure that you talk about specific risks associated with your activities, while also ensuring that you include general hazards involved with volunteering. Depending on your organization’s requirements and insurance requirements, decide if you want an annual waiver, a waiver that does not expire or a waiver for each time that the volunteer works with you.
2. Make sure that your volunteers understand the work involved
Regardless of the kind of risks involved, ensure that your volunteers understand the kind of work that you expect them to do. Your volunteer liability waiver is the appropriate place to do this. Your liability waiver should educate volunteers and parents and guardians (in the case of minor volunteers) about the nature of the activity, it’s purpose, benefits and possible risks. Include clear, specific descriptions of the activity and identify possible risks associated with the activity. Decide if you want to have a general liability for all volunteers and a separate one for volunteers doing more dangerous activities such as construction, heavy lifting, driving, etc. Include information that will prepare volunteers for the specific type of activity:
- Locations and environments where the activities could occur
- Explanation of the individuals volunteers can expect to work with (senior citizens, young children, persons with disabilities, etc)
- Specific requirements for the activity (minimum weight s/he must be able to lift, specific type of driver’s license, etc)
- If you need background checks on the volunteers, then make sure that you include it.
3. Clear, straight-forward language
Don’t get into “lawyer-speak” when drafting your waiver. It’s critical that volunteers understand what you’re asking them to sign. The waiver should be understandable by a person without legal training. So avoid unnecessary jargon and keep the language simple. Avoid small-print. Make sure that all of your document is clear, visible and understandable, so that volunteers understand that they can trust your organization.
4. Easily accessible waivers
Waiver forms should be easily accessible to your volunteers and to your organization. The best way to do this is to keep it all electronic and store it within your volunteer management system. This makes it easier to serve up the relevant waivers to your volunteers and also to retrieve signed waivers when required.
If you have volunteers signing up for tasks on your website, ensure that they see and sign your waiver forms. If possible, email your waiver forms to your volunteers, so that they can read and sign them at their convenience. If you use software to check-in volunteers, make sure that you can get volunteers to read and sign the waivers (if they haven’t already done so), before they check-in to the activity.
5. It’s not just about paper-work
The safety of your volunteers is of the greatest importance. it’s not enough to make sure that your volunteers have signed a waiver. Ensure that your organization is properly insured and has the right safety equipment in place for your volunteers, Make sure that your volunteers know how to use the safety equipment. If you need specific medical clearances for your volunteers, make sure that you have that in place before the volunteer participates in the activity. Talk to your insurance provider and see if it’s possible to get some form of volunteer insurance.
Volunteers want to do good and are appreciative when an organization looks out for them. They want good policies in place and to have proper training and management. Retaining volunteers requires not just gratitude, but also an organized approach that is protective of both your volunteers and your organization.