Volunteers: A Risk Worth Taking — If You Manage Them Properly

The importance of properly screening, training and onboarding volunteers

If your nonprofit relies on the time and talents of volunteers, you should know how important it is to properly screen, train and onboard them — and what can go wrong if you don’t.

Illustration of multiple hands raised in the air

Knowing who is providing services on your nonprofit’s behalf — and ensuring they are trained and qualified for the assignments you’ve given them — can save you many headaches and strengthen your overall commitment to the community. It’s an investment that is well worth the time.

If your nonprofit relies on the time and talents of volunteers, you should know how important it is to properly screen, train and onboard them — and what can go wrong if you don’t.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Imagine your nonprofit runs an animal rescue and seeks volunteers to help with different events.

A community member offers to transport three pups to a local adoption event, but shows up with a knee brace and scooter.

You question whether it’s best to send these three high-energy, large-breed pups with her — but you are short on volunteers and these dogs need a forever home.

What could go wrong?

Maybe your nonprofit delivers prepared meals and supplies to homeless veterans.

There’s an increasing need for meals in the community, so you take all the help you can get.

With high demand for your services, you don’t think there’s enough time to screen all interested volunteers, so you assign driving opportunities to anyone that signs up on your website.

One volunteer has a history of DUI, not to mention a felony conviction for assault and battery.

You have no idea.

Perhaps your nonprofit runs various programs for troubled teens, with several week-long overnight camping trips during the summer.

Interns from the local college are recruited to direct the programs and supervise the teen campers.

However, the interns suspect that some of the teens are using the overnights as an opportunity to engage in sexual behavior.

But the young interns don’t know how to respond.

Saving Time Doesn’t Always Pay

Screening, training, and onboarding volunteers can seem like a time-consuming and administrative burden, especially when combined with all the other demands of running your nonprofit.

With all those responsibilities, it can be tempting to take shortcuts.

But you are risking so much if you do.

What happens to your animal rescue when the already-injured volunteer is seriously hurt as the three high-energy pups you allowed her to handle pull her down when something excites them?

How will your meal delivery nonprofit be affected when the volunteer with a history of DUI and assault and battery conviction shows up smelling like alcohol or hurts someone during a road rage incident?

If your young interns aren’t trained to identify or respond to improper behavior or abuse, will you lose funding or face negative media attention? Or worse, could one of your teen participants be harmed?

Taking the time to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right situation — and properly training them for the opportunity you’ve delegated to them — can help your nonprofit avoid a laundry list of nasty surprises and damaging consequences, including:

  • Harm to people and property
  • An increase in claims, premiums, and deductibles
  • Difficulty securing insurance
  • Loss of funding and donations
  • Decreased engagement in programs
  • Negative public image
  • Risk to your nonprofit’s survival

All of these have the potential to put the good work your nonprofit does in your community at risk. What you don’t take the time to know or prepare for can cause real harm to people and property — which is why establishing and maintaining consistent practices in volunteer management is so critical to continuing your missions.

Protect Yourself and Your People

There are many tools, resources, and best practices that nonprofits can (and should) adopt that will help you effectively and safely manage your volunteer programs, while also reducing the potential for claims and other problems.

Steps your nonprofit can take:

Since your nonprofit is insured through NIA, you already have a head start on opportunities to manage your volunteers more safely and efficiently.

With NIA, you’ve got access to an array of free and heavily discounted resources, including free risk management consultations, discounted screening services, free abuse prevention resources, subsidized subscriptions on volunteer management software, and much more!

Check out the NIA Member Resources Guide to explore the many benefits at your disposal to protect your nonprofit from volunteer-related risks.