5 great tips for your volunteer liability waivers

Volunteers on a construction project

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

Signed waiver on the mobile
Signed waiver on the mobile

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.

In conclusion

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.

Engaging young volunteers

Last week, I watched my 12th-grade son manage a pretty large initiative

Engage young volunteers to your cause
Engage young volunteers to your cause

to feed 5000 under-privileged kids a special meal. He got a quick-service-restaurant on board to provide the meals with a great discount, he raised the money for the effort, all fairly easily. But where he really seemed to have trouble was to get enough other kids to work with him on the effort. He pulled it off, but since then I did some research and reading on engaging young volunteers. And it looks like there are some answers for him and for others looking to engage with young volunteers.

  1. Appeal to the social leader. Young people enjoy participating in volunteer activities with their friends. According to the Dosomething.org Index on Young People and Volunteering, an astounding 75.9% of those whose friends volunteer on a regular basis, also volunteer. If key influencers are convinced about your cause, they automatically bring in other friends in. Allow this peer-camaraderie to develop naturally.
  2. Appeal on their terms. Young people are born tech-savvy. While they are on their phones all the time, very few young people actually make calls or check their emails on their phones. They also intuitively do their own stuff on mobile apps all the time. So you definitely need to let young people set their volunteering schedules and preferences on their own through a mobile app. Give them ways to share status updates and pictures on their favorite social media. Not only does this bring more awareness of your cause, you will definitely have more young volunteers from their social circles.
  3. Involve them in the issues that they care about.  From that same
    The issues that teens care about
    The issues that teens care about

    Dosomething.org Index, the top 3 issues that teens care about are Animal Welfare, Hunger and Homelessness. While the percentages for each of these vary across regions, overall these are main issues. If your volunteer opportunities are in these areas, you’ll definitely see a lot of interest from younger volunteers.

  4. Use young people as fundraisers. Overall, fundraising is the top way that most young people volunteer. 38.5% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charities. Can you think of anything more potent than a passionate teen asking an adult for a donation for a good cause? Believe me, it’ll work much better than that cold call or the flyer that you were thinking of. Young people can be the best ambassadors of your cause.
  5. Lighten up the rules. Young people work differently. Bend your rules slightly to deal with the way that they work. They may come in late, leave early and seem remote. Give them work that they could thrive at. They’re naturally tech savvy. So anything to do with tech, music, sports, working with younger kids, they’ll love. Young people complain that they get jobs that no one else wants to do. Give your young volunteers jobs that give them responsibility and a sense of achievement. Give them things that they can do as a group and you’ll never be short of helping hands.
  6. Find different incentives. The single largest concern for most young people is college. If possible, offer them volunteer opportunities that help with college admissions. If you want to give them incentives, make that something that works for admissions too. T-shirts (though always welcome) may not be the best incentive. Find out what the latest little gadget that kids seem to be hankering for. See if you can make that the gift for your volunteers.

By better understanding how to engage and retain young volunteers, you are laying the foundation for the next generation of your long-term volunteers.

How to manage volunteer no-shows

You are all set for your big summer event. You’ve spent hours training your volunteers getting them up-to-speed, you’ve assigned them to shifts optimally based on their choices, you’ve even sent out email reminders to make sure that your volunteers know when and where they need to be.  Your big day turns around and some of your volunteers haven’t showed up. Sound familiar?

So how do you the Volunteer Manager pick up the pieces? Here are some strategies to help you cope.

  1. Build a buffer with Floater staff. No-shows happen despite all your efforts.
    volunteer tracking
    Managing Volunteers

    Better to buckle down and be ready for it. So you are going to need some extra bodies. Build a 10 – 15% buffer of additional volunteers into your schedule. There’s always extra work at events. So even if you have fewer no-shows, you can put your extra volunteers to good use. Monitoring deliveries and vendors, crowd control, clean-up crew – all good last minute duties for additional volunteers.

  2. Train volunteers and show them the importance of their job. Train volunteers properly and know that they are doing. They are more likely to stay engaged with your organization. Ensure that volunteers understand the importance of their job and how it affects the organization. Share stats of how much volunteer time means to the organization in dollar terms.
  3. Recognize your volunteers. Track volunteer engagement with your organization diligently. Make sure that your star volunteers are recognized. Use simple software to keep track of the hours that your volunteers spend with you. This is undoubtedly the best way to keep your volunteers coming back and working assigned shifts. You don’t need to give out big gifts. Just a simple thank you note from your Executive Director or coupons to a coffee shop should be sufficient.
  4. Make it easy for volunteers to communicate with you. Give your volunteers as many ways as possible to communicate with you. Phone calls / emails / text. Use volunteer management software that allows volunteers to Cancel / Reschedule their shifts online or on their mobiles. If it’s easy for a volunteer to Cancel on their mobile or online, they will. If they need to call someone to Cancel, they may not.
  5. Monitor check-ins. You need to be tracking who’s on site. The best way is to use technology where your volunteers can check themselves in, when they arrive. If you are using paper lists, make sure that your volunteers report to a central location where they can be checked in. That way, you can quickly scan the list and know who’s there. If it’s a large event with multi-locational check-ins, keep in touch with your supervisors to know if there are no-shows. Send your floater volunteers to however needs them the most.

The bottom-line is that paper lists and spreadsheets don’t allow for flexibility and adaptability. Use good volunteer management technology to help you adapt to situations quickly and seamlessly.

Of memories and management.

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a group of friends. I was astounded by the eidetic memory of one of them. As she showed pictures  from 37 years ago, one of the women was able to rattle off dates, events, anecdotes of people. Down to even the names of the dogs at one of the houses.

I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons that those memories were so strong was that the exchange program was so seminal in her formative years. But what of less influencing events? How do we manage those? How do we ensure that we actually do everything that has to be done, complete all the tasks and activities of our daily work life. And that of our home life. Can we rely on just our memories to carry us through all of that ever-expanding domain?

Fortunately, there’s a range of technology to help us get through the daily grind. I

Mobile and wearable technology
Mobile and wearable technology

remember my dad’s to-do lists. Every morning, his first task would be to make a list of all the things that he had to through the day on a sheet of paper. He would tick off tasks as he got them done. Today, with To-do lists on our ubiquitous mobile phones and wearable technology, it’s easy to organize and get work done efficiently. With multiple calendars on our mobile phones, you can set up all your meetings and timed activities on your calendar with reminders to make sure that you don’t miss a thing.

Moving on to our own domain of volunteer tracking and management in the

V4S Management Dashboard
V4S Management Dashboard

resource-constrained non-profit world. Technology becomes key to handling large numbers of volunteers who come in at different times to do different tasks. You can use technology to post your volunteer opportunities on mobiles or on the web. It’s not just McDonalds that can get people to self-serve and clean up after themselves. Volunteer tracking software allows your volunteers to sign up for those opportunities at their convenience, either on their mobiles or on the web. Automatically send out registration confirmations, event reminders and thank you emails. Generate online / mobile-based signup sheets and rosters. Volunteers can check in/out of their assignments to track the time spent and send you feedback online. You can use volunteer tracking to identify your star volunteers and recognize them.

The return on investment includes reduced workload for harried nonprofit staff, greater convenience and better engagement with volunteers, and the ability to ensure that the right number of volunteers are available for your projects. So for those times when just memory does not suffice to recall how many volunteers actually showed up for an event or how long they actually worked, volunteer management technology is definitely the answer.