Non-profit events staffed by untrained volunteers can be risky business

Non-profit events staffed by untrained volunteers can be risky business

Non-profit events staffed by untrained volunteers can be risky business Volunteers at special events can create risks – and insurance headaches – for non-profit event organizers. And as we head into the event months of summer, this takes on greater importance for non-profits.

This is where non-profit insurers come in – to help mitigate the risks created by having well-meaning, but untrained, amateurs in charge of potentially risky situations.

Melissa Yarnell, vice president of risk at the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group (NIAG), spoke to Insurance Business about the volunteer workforce at special events.

“Non-profits can be very unique in several ways. One is that fundraising can be a primary source of revenue … and for some it’s the sole source of revenue. Non-profits are really the only sector where they might have primarily or solely a volunteer workforce,” she said.

“Managing volunteers has unique challenges and holding events has its risks,” she added.

She said the best piece of advice for would-be event hosts is to plan ahead and train your volunteers – particularly around food safety, which can be a danger area.

“One of the mistakes with volunteers, is that because they’re not employees, non-profits don’t always define their responsibilities,” she explained. “Who is responsible for food safety, for example … and who is going to make sure all the servers are well-trained before the event starts. Food events can be very risky, when you have large crowds, sun, and food handling with volunteers who aren’t experienced in that area, it can really result in trouble.”

A California non-profit event recently spread salmonella food poisoning among its patrons, Yarnell said.

“It was a good-natured, well-meaning volunteer who simply did not know how to safely handle food,” she said. “And when you are in a liability case and you’ve got a volunteer who says ‘I didn’t know what to do,’ or ‘I wasn’t trained,’ then that does not put us or the insured in a good position.”

Other volunteer-related risks at events include alcohol serving and security details. These are just some of the risks non-profits face in the busy summer period, Yarnell said, which is why they need to work with their brokers to discuss all possible insurance products.


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