Volunteering for Trouble or Trouble with Volunteers?: A Guide to the Liability Risks for Nonprofits and their Volunteers

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Volunteers often constitute an essential portion of the “workforce” of nonprofit organizations. Volunteers can play an essential role in providing important charitable services and constitute a vital link to an organization’s constituency and the public—enhancing or harming a nonprofit’s image and functioning. The use of volunteers, however, entails risk—both from and to volunteers. For example, volunteers can be placed in positions where their own personal safety may be endangered or where they may present a threat (physical, economic or otherwise) to employees, visitors, patients, members, or others making use of the nonprofit’s services or facilities. At the same time, volunteers may be deterred from volunteering due to concerns that they may be injured or sued for their actions, proving the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

As is apparent, the ability to obtain and maintain a volunteer force that functions smoothly with employees and the constituency of an organization is critical. As such, a nonprofit must use care in selecting and supervising volunteers, while at the same time taking steps to ensure that current and potential volunteers do not feel the risks associated with volunteering are too great. This article will provide an overview of some of the legal issues presented by the use of volunteers.

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