Fine Points of Having Volunteers

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Having volunteers seems like a no-brainer for every nonprofit, but there are some things to think about when you do. In no particular order, a few of them are:

Get applicable releases from volunteers before they start work, starting with a medical release. For minors, get a photo release from the parent or guardian if you plan to use photos of them in any marketing. Waivers of negligence are unenforceable in Montana, but get them anyway; it reduces nuisance suits and is a good way to make sure that volunteers are told of the possible hazards of their position.

Remember that workplace safety rules apply to volunteers as well as employees. Think through the activities you assign to them and make sure they will get enough training to be safe. Require safety equipment. Share safety procedures with them. Provide experienced supervision for potentially dangerous tasks.

The Fair Labor Standards Act has all kinds of safeguards to make sure that employees get paid for their work, which makes it trickier to have nonprofit employees volunteer to help the organization – no matter how much they want to. To stay out of trouble, don’t let them volunteer for the same kind of work they do for pay; don’t let them volunteer to do work usually done by another employee; and have them sign a statement that clearly states that they are volunteering, not working.

No matter how much you appreciate your volunteers, don’t express it by giving them money – that is a fast way to turn them into employees, which changes all the rules expensively. Find other ways to show your appreciation.