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Are You Putting Volunteers in Harm’s Way?

on Fri, 01/06/2012 - 21:58

The U.S. Peace Corps announced in late December that they would be suspending volunteer efforts in Honduras and other countries because of increased security concerns.  It’s not uncommon to hear reports from organizations such as the Peace Corps that they must place the safety of their volunteers above program service goals.  

Energize often cautions agency executives against worst-case scenario thinking about volunteers and risk, in which some form of volunteer activity is banned because of presumed likelihood of liability. Yet the Peace Corps conundrum highlights something different: uncontrollable dangers in the environment in which volunteers are asked to work. This can range from possible physical assault to contracting disease to property theft.

Should you be assessing the dangers that you are asking volunteers to face as they serve your organization?  Probably. Certainly you should be developing policies that identify any inherently risky environments volunteers may encounter and clarify what should be done about them. Isn’t it better to have discussions about the possibilities BEFORE we need to make decisions about stopping service at a moment’s notice?

Involve volunteers in your deliberations from the start. It is paternalistic to decide unilaterally that volunteers ought not to do something – after all, they are usually adults, free to make their own decisions about the level of risk they can tolerate. You have the right to curtail activities done in your name, but make decisions based on good reasons and with the input of different stakeholders.

Remember, too, that we routinely expect volunteers to fight fires, reach out to the homeless at night, visit prisons, engage in search-and-rescue emergencies and other activities that carry potential to be in harm’s way.  Are your concerns legitimately to protect volunteers or are you mainly trying to avoid lawsuits?

To get the conversation started, here are our top 5 resources for helping you develop effective strategies for risk management and safety of volunteers:

 

Be prepared for all these resources to focus more often on things done wrong by volunteers than what might be done to them. Spend some time thinking about that side of the coin, too.

 

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Comments

Jin Micro's picture

It is paternalistic to decide unilaterally that volunteers ought not to do something – after all, they are usually adults, free to make their own decisions about the level of risk they can tolerate. I certainly agree with this. -Forex Brokers
How To Make A Website's picture

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