How a Volunteer Risk Management Plan Can Prevent You from Slipping Up
Does your association have a volunteer risk management plan in place? Do you even know why you would need one?
Simply put, volunteers represent a risk to your organization on various levels. This is not to say that other personnel, be they in an association or for-profit company, do not likewise present risks to that organization. However, the nature of volunteers and associations present some unique risks to consider in a volunteer risk management plan.
Understanding the risk volunteers represent means first understanding what a "volunteer" is to your association. They include the professional association executives who comprise your board members. They are your members who volunteer to sit on committees. They are anyone who volunteers to assist your organization without compensation, regardless of their role.
But what risks are involved with an organization's volunteers? Let's look at the issue from two different directions.
What Your Volunteers Represent to the Association
When thinking of volunteers, they are typically first acknowledged regarding the resources they bring to an organization. What skills do they possess? Do they offer strong network ties? Are they experienced?
No matter how valuable a volunteer may seem "on paper," this value can be diminished -- even wasted -- if they are filling a mismatched role. Not only will such ill-placed volunteers be unable to meet their potential, but they also place your association at risk. Moreover, what happens if they assume their position for the wrong reasons (e.g., due to pressures of some sort rather than competency.)
Consider what can go wrong by having the wrong volunteer in the wrong position. Not being familiar with what their role requires of them can stall or even set back progress. It can mean money lost to bad decisions. It can mean alienating other volunteers and staff. If this volunteer is on your board, it can mean waiting for a new election or slogging through governance processes to fix the problem.
Also consider that the means for rectifying these situations can also be harmful if not carefully considered via a volunteer risk management plan. For example, your organization is responsible for putting this volunteer in their positions in the first place. Think of how your organization's reputation and credibility can suffer by divesting itself of a volunteer that missteps through no fault of their own.
What the Association Represents to Your Volunteers
Volunteers become involved with associations for various reasons. Overall, though, they fall into one of two main categories: those who feel the organization can help them out in some way (e.g., advance their career or provide them with prestige) and those who want to help the organization's purpose out of genuine interest.
Even someone with the best intentions is not beyond making mistakes or corruption. Beyond that, someone out for their benefit is more open to opportunities of self-interest. Remember, volunteers are not subject to many of the mechanisms in place to address such problems with employees. A volunteer risk management plan is necessary to assess vulnerabilities and liabilities volunteers represent. This can include volunteers handling money, with access to privileged information, and so on.
Although no one expects it, an organization must be prepared to find out (the hard way) that a volunteer sees them as nothing more than a selfish opportunity.
The Volunteer Risk Management Plan: Protecting Against the Unexpected
In an ideal situation, all volunteers are trustworthy and are well- suited for their role. They have the skills and experience to not only get the job done but to excel at it. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Although we should always hope for the best, associations must also prepare for the worst. This means preparing a volunteer risk management plan that outlines unexpected and common problems and how to address them. A lack of preparation and volunteer risk management plan can be costly, if not crippling.
Lori Gotlieb of Lori Gotlieb Consulting is conducting a related event, Managing Volunteer Risk: What Keeps You Up at Night?, in March 2017. It will address several key points relevant to this article. Click on the button to follow to learn more.
The CSAE publication by Jack Shand, CAE, the Role of Volunteers in Non-Profit Organizations, may help your organization better identify and understand its volunteers. Doing so is the first step to developing a proper volunteer risk management plan.