Sunday, November 20, 2016

Non-profits need a lot more transparency in how they manage the risks that volunteers may take

In a culture that is increasingly concerned about “giving back” as a component or moral and political egalitarianism (or about religious values), how should someone who volunteers to provide care to those in need, or particularly to drive (especially his own vehicle) for a non-profit charity approach the issue of personal risk?

This is a huge issue, with many ramifications that can’t all be covered in a short post.  But some of the biggest risks would include auto accident (with liability or injury to the volunteer or to other beneficiaries being transported), and crime, particularly in lower income areas where much volunteer work may be needed.  The very worst scenarios could include something carjacking and kidnapping when someone is transporting a client or doing meal delivery in an economically disadvantaged for possibly racially troubled area.

Another possibility is a “Good Samaritan” situation where someone has attempts to rescue or save someone else’s life after an accident, fire, crime, or otherwise dangerous situation and when emergency services cannot arrive quickly.

Generally, individuals’ own auto liability policies cover liability up to a point, but non-profits can be liable in various situations, differing among states.The Internet is scattered with occasional stories of volunteers being targeted by violent crime, as here, somewhat along the lines of Donald Trump's "nation in peril" notions.
There are many references online, with somewhat contradictory advice, but here are a few of the best: CTAA, Venable, and Volunteer Match.

One of the biggest issues for non-profits needing volunteers is transparency.  Organizations need to have a sense of what they are asking for, including the possibility of risk taking, and communicate this to potential volunteers.  Problems occur at times of the year where many volunteers are needed for one day (like to deliver Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, especially in troubled neighborhoods) where volunteers are less experienced and less familiar with locations, adding to risk.  Some non-profits with a narrower client focus may be fooled by their own sense of “identity politics” and blind themselves to seeing around some corners to recognize the risks involved for volunteers.

 Orientations and public information forums seem important. This may even be more serious in politically controversial projects, such as helping certain immigrants.

On the other hand, people new to volunteering will need to ponder the meaning behind “giving back” (or “shared sacrifice” or “right-sizing”)  In a world where people depend on others who take risk (ranging from firefighters, who may be volunteers, to military, to the “somebody’s gotta do it” crowd) one’s personal credibility (or karma) may be compromised if he or she seems cowardly.

As a grim closing, I’ll include a link on carjacking.  Note the advice never to allow kidnapping (as in the movie “Nocturnal Animals”), which becomes an existential life-ending threat.  

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