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Things You Need to Know About Liability Waivers

By Heather Brown
October 21, 2016

It is more than common for nonprofits to utilize volunteers on a daily basis. Most nonprofit directors will tell you they rely fully on volunteers to make their mission and vision a success. The volunteers carry out the message, raise funds, work in the fields depending on the mission, and keep everything running smoothly. Relying on volunteers is rewarding because you get critical items accomplished. Volunteers are also a great risk to nonprofits like yours.

Volunteer Risk

Volunteers risk injury when they donate their time to nonprofit organizations. Depending on the scope of your mission, some of these injuries are significant.

(Consider Habitat for Humanity- volunteers actively work with construct homes. That means they access tools of all types, climb ladders, and spend a substantial amount of time in the sun. The possibility of falls, injury, and sun-poisoning or dehydration is high).

Protect Your Nonprofit

There are 3 main ways you can protect your nonprofit from lawsuits filed by volunteers:

  • Liability Waivers
  • Policies &  Procedures
  • Volunteer Insurance

Understanding Liability Waivers

Liability waivers are commonly used by all types of nonprofits. They are signed by volunteers prior their official start date or shift. The release states the volunteer assumes all risk of being a volunteer and agrees to not hold the nonprofit liable for any injury. Unfortunately, not all courts favor these types of documents. Even so, many nonprofits find them to be a valuable resource in minimizing claims.

Craft a Strong Waiver &  Release

Utilize these key steps to craft a strong waiver and release for your volunteers.

  1. Put it in writing. Waivers need to be in writing. Make sure you create a waiver and release and have all volunteers sign.
  2. Be consistent. Utilize the same release for all volunteers. If you make changes to the existing document, request all volunteers sign an updated copy.
  3. Must be voluntary. Waivers cannot be forced- they need to be considered voluntary. Explain the waiver and conditions to all volunteers during orientation. This gives them the opportunity to ask questions and determine their comfort level.
  4. Use certain wording. Include wording that states the volunteer assumes all risks and the nonprofit will not be held liable for injuries or any negligent acts.
  5. Identify the value. By law, anybody signing a waiver must receive something of value in return. Identify what the value is in the waiver (participating in your programs).

Liability waivers are widely used by nonprofits of all types. The first step to utilizing waivers is to understand their purpose and the risk that not all courts uphold these during a trial. To minimize your nonprofit risk, take the time to create volunteer policies, procedures, training, and handbooks. In addition, take the time to research possible insurance options to protect you after an accident occurs.

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