September 23, 2016
It is fairly straightforward to manage the risks surrounding your volunteers. In fact, most of what’s involved simply reflects sound management practices. Consider these easily implemented steps:
Put policies in place. Develop a risk management policy that clearly establishes proper procedures for volunteers to follow — including appropriate use of the organization's equipment, such as vehicles and computers. Ditto for a volunteer code of conduct. Have the board formally adopt the policy and then create a volunteer handbook outlining everything.
Align skills. As you seek to fill volunteer positions, look to align the right people with the right jobs, taking into consideration each volunteer’s experience and talents. For example, you probably wouldn't want to assign a newly licensed teenager to run the van for your after-school program.
Dig deep with background checks. Volunteers who will be working with youth, seniors or other vulnerable populations should receive more vigorous screening, including a criminal background check.
Disclose known risks. Disclose any potential safety concerns associated with volunteer activities. You might go as far as having volunteers sign a formal waiver acknowledgment of the risks.
Partner up. Partner new volunteers with more experienced colleagues to minimize the chance of “rookie mistakes.”
Train them. Conduct an orientation specifically for new volunteers. Train them in their specific duties, emphasizing risk management. And make sure they understand the chain of command and who to notify about unsafe conditions or potential hazards.
Inform them. Volunteers should also be made aware of any whistleblower policy (for reporting suspected fraud) or any other policies in place to protect the not-for-profit’s reputation. Likewise, have them sign confidentiality agreements just as you would do if they were employees or board members.
Pull the plug on risky activities. Consider eliminating any program or activity that is excessively risky. At the very least, temporarily suspend it until a thorough risk assessment can be conducted.
Effectively managing volunteers is really no different than managing paid staff. Treat them with respect, give them the training they need and supervise them appropriately.