Volunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofit organizations. Their dedication, time, and energy often make the difference in achieving an organization's mission. However, as much as they are a blessing, working with volunteers can also bring about legal challenges. While this article won't provide specific legal advice, it offers guidelines on how to avoid legal pitfalls when working with volunteers.
1. Clear Volunteer Policies:
Having a clear, written volunteer policy is essential. This should detail the expectations, roles, responsibilities, and code of conduct for volunteers. A clear policy provides guidelines and helps both the organization and the volunteer know what's expected.
2. Proper Training:
Ensure all volunteers undergo a comprehensive orientation and training. This ensures they understand their roles and reduces the risks of mishaps that could create legal issues.
3. Volunteer Agreements:
Consider having volunteers sign an agreement that outlines their role, the organization's expectations, and any relevant policies (like confidentiality). While not a binding employment contract, it formalizes the volunteer's commitment.
4. Background Checks:
For roles that involve sensitive information or vulnerable populations (like children or the elderly), conduct background checks. This step can protect your organization and those you serve.
5. Avoid Displacement of Paid Staff:
Ensure that volunteers aren't replacing or displacing paid staff. This could raise legal concerns about employment rights and wage laws.
6. Understand the Difference between Volunteers and Employees:
While volunteers offer their services without expecting compensation, be aware of situations where a volunteer's role may start to look like that of an employee. If they're doing the same tasks and working similar hours as paid employees, there might be legal implications.
7. Liability Insurance:
It's wise for nonprofits to have liability insurance that covers volunteers. This protects the organization in case a volunteer is injured or causes injury while carrying out their duties.
8. Reimbursement Policies:
If you reimburse volunteers for expenses, have a clear policy in place. This ensures there's no confusion or potential legal issues related to payments.
9. Respect Volunteers' Rights:
Just like employees, volunteers have rights. For instance, they shouldn't be subjected to discrimination or harassment. Make sure your organization has policies in place that protect these rights and that volunteers know how to report concerns.
10. Regularly Review and Update Policies:
Laws and best practices change. Regularly review your volunteer policies and practices to ensure they are up-to-date and compliant with any legal changes.
Volunteers play a crucial role in many nonprofits, but it's essential to be aware of the potential legal challenges that can arise. By following these guidelines, your organization can build a solid foundation that honors the contributions of volunteers while also protecting the interests of the nonprofit.
Remember, while this article offers general advice, always consult with legal professionals or experts in nonprofit management to address specific concerns or questions about working with volunteers.