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4 Volunteer Risks

Volunteers are great resources for nonprofits. They provide organizations with free labor for special events and other programs, allowing them to save money. Yet for all the good they do, and it's a lot, they do come with some risk.

In his book "The Idiot's Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers," John L. Lipp wrote that part of the challenge of managing volunteers lies in continually balancing the risks with all the advantages. While most mistakes caused by volunteers are not done with malicious intent, having good intentions is unfortunately not a valid defense.

One of the first steps to being prepared for volunteer-related risks is to identify the problems that could arise. Lipp identified four of these, along with the level of risk it brings:

  • Low Risk: A volunteer stuffing envelopes with the risk of an occasional paper cut, or a volunteer making phone calls.
  • Moderate Risk: A volunteer working in a warehouse where something could fall, or a volunteer using tools to help remodel a house.
  • High Risk: A volunteer who drives clients to doctor appointments, mentors a child one-on-one, or counts the cash at fundraising events alone.
  • Extreme Risk: A search-and-rescue volunteer who enters unstable buildings looking for victims, or a volunteer firefighter.
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