Volunteer With Care
Still, we may have a couple of things going for us. If we're on the board, many organizations have directors' and officers' liability coverage to keep us from being held liable for a well-intentioned but bonehead decision. On the other hand, many small NFPs can barely afford to carry out their missions, much less pay for insurance. Make sure to ask before signing on and inquire whether there's any history of liability claims - or any potential claim just getting up to a boil for, say, wrongful termination of a staff member.
But what if we're not on the board, just, say, a volunteer working on a fund-raising event who spills hot coffee on someone; or maybe we're directing traffic in the parking lot and someone gets run over because of our lousy hand signals; or we set up the risers for the concert and they collapse with everyone in mid-Bach? Some consolation is provided by a State statute that exempts volunteers from personal liability in these situations, but only if the organization has kept a record that we were authorized to act on its behalf. Needless to say, that should be in writing and we should have a copy of it in our back pockets before pitching in.
We're still not out of the woods, though, because even if we're eventually exonerated from liability, we may have spent thousands on our own lawyers just to get clear of the mess.
So what is the solution, other than giving up all your good deeds and moving in with Ebenezer Scrooge? My recommendation is that you consider adding an umbrella liability policy to your other insurance coverages. The reason is that many such policies include protection from personal liability for service as an uncompensated volunteer for an NFP. I just checked and mine does (phew!). This coverage is pretty inexpensive, and it includes providing you with a legal defense if you do get tangled up in litigation. After all, you can't really say you won if it costs you $25,000 to get the case dismissed! Even here, though, be very careful, because you'll blow the coverage if you receive compensation of any sort at all - and I mean even free tickets to one of the organization's events or performances. (Reimbursement for expenses actually incurred is OK.)
I hesitated to say all this, because I don't want to scare you off. Just be as smart a volunteer as you are about everything else. Your organizations need you - they really couldn't function without you - and they provide you/me/us with important psychic compensation that won't affect our insurance coverage at all.
(Posted on August 6, 2012)