Employee or Volunteer? Classifying Teams

The proper classification of team members at your nonprofit is essential to ensure compliance with labor laws and avoid financial penalties or legal claims.

Three Risk Trends to Keep in Mind as you Enlist Volunteers

By Christy Grano In my work with nonprofit teams, I am repeatedly impressed with the array of terrific volunteer programs that support nonprofit missions; that positive impression swells when I observe smart risk management practices in volunteer recruitment and supervision. I experienced first hand the positive message that a clear, compelling volunteer training transmits to … Continued

Rewarding Risks: The Prodigious Power of Volunteers

By Christy Grano It’s National Volunteer Week, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of volunteers and the indelible impact that volunteer service makes on communities across our country. In the promotional materials for National Volunteer Week, the Points of Light Foundation reminds us that: “Whether online, at the office, or the local food bank; whether with a vote, a … Continued

Volunteers: Your Community By Design

A special and unparalleled way to know is to go where you’ve never been. And the key to this quest for knowledge is ‘elsewhere.’ – Hugh Kenner, The Elsewhere Community Below the named Board of Directors, below the listed Administrative Staff, below the prestigious Advisory Committee, after the many Acknowledgements, after the Generous Sponsors and Donors, at … Continued

Boomerang Volunteers: Back Atcha

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Since it’s National Volunteer Week, the NRMC team has been reflecting on the many volunteers (from guest writers to conference faculty and our board of directors) who fuel our mission to inspire Risk Champions. Because it’s in our DNA, we’ve also been pondering volunteer risk and reward, the subject of our … Continued

Best of Risk Management Essentials

Explore this RISK eNewsletter filled with some of our most popular issues of Risk Management Essentials (RME), our magazine published three times each year. Visit the RME archive for more issues and articles! Manage Risk with an Eye for Ethics Ethics serves as a foundation for the risk management work initiated by many NRMC clients … Continued

Valiant Volunteerism: Managing Volunteer Risk & Reward

December 12, 2017 Enjoy this RISK eNewsletter filled with volunteer risk management resources! The Frankenstein Effect: Misclassifying Your Volunteers The NRMC team fields lots of questions about worker classification. If you misclassify a worker, you increase the likelihood of various downside risks, including financial penalties and poor morale. Read about The Frankenstein Effect to prevent … Continued


By Erin Gloeckner The NRMC team enjoyed a lot of help in planning and executing our recent annual conference, the Risk Summit. Check out photos from the event to find yourself in the crowd or–if you couldn’t join us–to see what you missed. Our generous Corporate Partners helped us make the Risk Summit a reality, … Continued

Not So Great Governance? Resolve to Reinvent the Board

By Melanie Lockwood Herman In contrast with family members, friends and staff who are devoted to their favorite teams and specific sports, I have a less loyal and more general interest in sports. And while watching live or televised events, I’m easily distracted by subliminal messages about teamwork and leadership that play out on the … Continued

Lend a Helping Hand: Top 10 Risks Facing Volunteer Programs

Volunteer programs are vital to the nonprofit sector. Boost the contribution that your volunteers can make in moving your mission forward. Watch this webinar to learn the top ten risks facing volunteer programs, and practical tips to protect your nonprofit when recruiting, managing, and recognizing your volunteers.

Valiant Volunteerism

By Erin Gloeckner Community service is a way of life for some folks, and those folks help nonprofit missions move forward each day. My own experiences volunteering at a health clinic, a community event planning board, and an animal shelter were in some ways more rewarding than any employment role I could have. Yet volunteers … Continued

Termination Trepidation: Disciplining & Terminating Volunteers

By Erin Gloeckner Have you ever stayed in a failing relationship even when you knew it wasn’t working out? Or worse–even when you knew it was bad for you? Pulling the plug on bad relationships is a critical skill in both the personal and professional sense. When it’s time to terminate a team member, many … Continued

Senior Volunteers: A Priceless Resource

Note: This article is excerpted from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center’s book, No Surprises: Harmonizing Risk and Reward in Volunteer Management—5th Edition. Seniors are participating as volunteers for nonprofit organizations in record numbers. Participants include AmeriCorps—formerly Senior Corps, the federally-funded national “network of programs that tap the experience, skills, and talents of older citizens to … Continued

Employee or Volunteer: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

Is there a legal difference between employees and volunteers? Do you know what it is, and why it matters? This webinar explores the subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions and why they matter. You’ll learn about The Frankenstein Effect, and how to avoid creating monstrous, costly liability for your nonprofit.

Volunteer Risk Management Myths and Truths

This fast-paced webinar covers seven topics related to volunteer risk management. Learn to distinguish between common “myths” and lesser-known “truths” when it comes to engaging volunteers in your mission. You’ll also learn about resources that can help you understand and manage the risks that arise when you engage volunteers.

Managing the Risks of Deploying Youthful Volunteers

Did you know that two-thirds of adults who volunteer began volunteering when they were young? It is popular today for schools and court systems to require graduates and juvenile offenders to engage in community service. As a result, your nonprofit may be asked to accept youth volunteers who may not otherwise be part of your … Continued

Spotlight on People: Managing Volunteer and Employee Risks

By the Nonprofit Risk Management Center  When Does Compensating Volunteers Turn Them Into Employees? Last year the questions flowing from the Center’s newsletter article on this issue were surprising. We didn’t realize that so many organizations find ways to “pay” their volunteers in small, and sometimes, big ways! New guidance from the U.S. Department of … Continued

How to Honor and Respect Your Volunteers

April 13, 2016 By Melanie Lockwood Herman Nonprofits across the country are showcasing their creative talents to celebrate the contributions of volunteers during the month of April, “National Volunteer Month.” Here at the NRMC we receive quite a few calls from volunteers. Unfortunately, since we’re all about ‘risk,’ many of these callers contact us to … Continued

The Frankenstein Effect

October 21, 2015 By Erin Gloeckner With Halloween swiftly approaching, I’ve been humming ‘Monster Mash’ and craving anything pumpkin-flavored. A few nights ago I went shopping for dog food, but found myself drawn to the cheap-but-adorable doggie Halloween costumes. I came home with a bag of food and a hilarious Frankenstein costume for my dog, … Continued

Hire an Architect, Not a Drill Sergeant to Lead Your Volunteers

April 15, 2015 By Melanie Lockwood Herman We are celebrating National Volunteer Week by reflecting on some of the challenges (opportunities!) facing volunteer programs in the U.S. Despite differences in leadership styles, we’ve noticed a striking similarity among volunteer program leaders: many view their role as that of a drill sergeant responsible for developing and … Continued

Employee Handbooks: Risk Management Road Maps

By the Nonprofit Risk Management Center  Creating written workplace policies and procedures that are legally up-to-date and easy to follow is as important as having adequate insurance. Policies that are clearly communicated to staff and consistently applied serve to safeguard against improvised solutions that can result in a lawsuit. Written policies are the starting point … Continued

Developing Position Descriptions

Position descriptions are a critical part of the staff screening process. Position descriptions spell out the requirements of the job and help to identify possible risks associated with that position. By understanding these risks, organizations are better able to select individuals who are capable of performing the position’s duties, but who do not constitute an … Continued

Effective Training is Key to Managing the Risks of Staff Turnover

By the Nonprofit Risk Management Center Team Turnover is a recurring challenge for nonprofit organizations. Paid and volunteer staff may move on to new challenges or better paying positions. From time to time, a nonprofit may need to terminate the employment of a poor performer or lay off employees during an economic downturn. In all … Continued

Screening Update

By the Nonprofit Risk Management Center Team  The results of a study of volunteer screening practices by the National Center for Victims of Crime reveal gaps in the volunteer screening practices of nonprofit organizations. Twelve percent of the organizations participating in the survey reported that they did not engage in screening activities for volunteer applicants … Continued

Halloween, Unmasking Risk and Your Nonprofit

By Melanie Lockwood Herman You’ve probably heard it from others or perhaps have even uttered it yourself: Halloween isn’t the same as it was “back in the day.” When I was a child Halloween costumes began as grand concepts that morphed into wearable works of art over a period of days or weeks. And the … Continued

Meet Me in the Middle: Compromise in a Risky World

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Compromise and consensus are common themes in the nonprofit world. When debating controversial issues we are eager to discount “extreme” views and look for middle ground. Compromise—“the middle way between two extremes” is intuitively appealing. But another definition of compromise—“settle by concession”—offers a hint of the downside of our compulsion to … Continued

Risk Management Culture and Your Volunteers

By Melanie Lockwood Herman We’ve been obsessed with “culture” in recent weeks. At a conference I attended in Toronto in mid-August Nancy Axelrod, governance guru and founding President of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center told an audience of nonprofit CEOs that “culture trumps strategy.” Nancy’s comments reminded me that no matter how carefully a nonprofit’s … Continued

Art and Science: Creating the Perfect Recipe for Volunteer Success

By Melanie Lockwood Herman As an avid fan of the Food Network, I love watching experienced chefs blend ingredients in a seemingly nonchalant manner. A pinch of this, a handful of that, and always—salt to taste. And of course everything looks mouth-watering at the end of the show. But when the featured chef is demonstrating … Continued

People Who Need People: Are you feeling lucky?

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Nonprofit management experts often direct “nonprofits” to take specific steps to improve their governance, internal operations, strategic planning and fundraising activities. But as we well know, the “nonprofit” itself is incapable of “doing” anything—it’s the people behind the desks, on the other end of the phone, and seated around the board … Continued

Summer Interns: Volunteers or Employees?

By Jennifer Chandler Hauge Now that summer is around the corner, many nonprofits are fortunate to have lined up students or recent grads as “interns.” Such summer help is greatly appreciated by nonprofits but could come at an unexpected cost if the nonprofit is paying the interns and is not prepared to treat them as … Continued

Near, Clear and Substantial

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Human beings are more generous with their time and money—and more willing to help victims who are in close proximity, with whom they feel a sense of kinship, and when they feel that their generosity will be more than a “drop in the bucket.” In contrast, we tend to be less … Continued

Reality Check: The Myth of Multitasking and Debunking The Blame Game

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Feedback from a reader of the NRMC’s eNews reminded me of one theme in one of the most thought-provoking “books” currently residing on my electronic reading device. The book, by Joseph T. Hallinan is titled: Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All … Continued

Hiring and Performance: Critical Areas of Risk for Every Nonprofit

By Melanie Lockwood Herman I’ve been reading a terrific book this week titled Strategic Risk Taking: A Framework for Risk Management, by Aswath Damodaran. One of my favorite insights in the book is the reference to the work of Glyn A. Holton who posits that two “ingredients” are necessary for a risk to exist. The … Continued

Love and Politics

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Although I will readily acknowledge my eclectic taste in reading material, this week I’ve been reading two books that couldn’t be any further apart with respect to style and substance. Handbook for the Heart is a collection of thirty-four essays on love, happiness and personal growth. In his essay titled “The … Continued

Less Worry, More Happy

By Melanie Lockwood Herman While visiting family this week the subject of Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” came up in a conversation about traffic on Cape Cod during the high season for visitors. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was released in 1988 and became the first a cappella song to reach #1 on the … Continued

Beneath the Halo

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Author Duncan Watts’ discussion of “The Halo Effect” in his book, Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer led me to reflect on the halos that hover above nonprofit organizations. The Halo Effect is in essence a form of cognitive bias that alters our perception of people and things. The … Continued

We’re All Human

By Melanie Lockwood Herman When nonprofit leaders approach NRMC for advice about strengthening their risk management practices, most imagine that what they need is a new “system,” a toolkit, workshop, a list of definitive do’s and don’ts, or a checklist. NRMC resources include all of the above. But what we often discover in our risk … Continued

No Surprises in Volunteer Management

By Erin Gloeckner Volunteers are at the heart of most nonprofits, but your nonprofit’s heart may beat a dangerous rhythm without volunteer risk management. Every nonprofit with volunteers is at risk of experiencing these surprises: The risk of a volunteer abusing a client The risk of a volunteer’s actions harming the nonprofit’s reputation The risk … Continued

Volunteers: Instruments of Your Mission

By Alexandra Ricketts As a risk advisor to nonprofit organizations, I often hear leaders refer to volunteers as the heart of a charitable mission. This hopeful outlook often inspires passionate volunteer service. But the risk of discord exists when nonprofit leaders are naïve about the cost of volunteer service. Volunteer service may be unpaid, but … Continued

How Lifestyle Figures in an Appropriate Mentor Match

By John C. Patterson There is a fine line between gathering the necessary information for making the appropriate match and infringing on the privacy of all parties involved. Yet, the parents’ right to set limits on who they feel is an acceptable match for their child requires information about the lifestyle of the mentor matched … Continued

Volunteers, Social Media and Risk

Here are a few tips for managing the risks that arise from volunteer use of social media or the use of social media to attract, support and connect volunteers. Don’t overreact — Posting a “tit for tat” response to every negative post by disgruntled volunteers may cast your nonprofit in a negative light. Stakeholders may … Continued

Myths of Volunteer Risk Management,‹ Part 2

by Hal Denton and Fiona Lally This is the second of a series on common myths associated with the risks of using volunteers in nonprofit organizations. We’ll look at each myth for its impact on liability assessment, the purchase of insurance, and risk management planning. Myth #2 Risk management for volunteers is primarily a question … Continued

Tempting But Confusing and Dangerous: Paying Volunteers Just a Little Something

by George L. Head, Ph.D. A thoughtful, appreciative board or executive director may want to pay a nonprofit’s volunteers “just a little something” beyond reimbursing individual volunteers for their expenditures on the organization’s behalf. Some nonprofits rationalize a monetary gift as a demonstration of thanks for the loyalty volunteers have shown to the organization: “Buy … Continued

Myths of Volunteer Risk Management, Part 1

by Hal Denton and Fiona Lally This is the first of a six-part series on common myths about the risks of using volunteers in nonprofit organizations. We’ll look at each myth for its impact on liability assessment, the purchase of insurance, and risk management planning. Myth #1 The biggest risk associated with the utilization of … Continued

Keeping Volunteers Safe From Harm: Street Smarts for Unfamiliar Turf

By Barbara B. Oliver Volunteer safety takes many forms in a community-serving nonprofit. From a thorough orientation program to “on-the-job” training, careful supervision and incident follow-up, nonprofits have various opportunities to help their volunteers stay safe. Start at the Beginning Don’t assume that you know what your volunteers are worried about or afraid of. Ask … Continued

Myths of Volunteer Risk Management,‹ Part 3

by Hal Denton and Fiona Lally This is the third in a series of articles concerning myths about volunteer liability. This installment covers the concept of agency as it relates to volunteer activities and how an organization should address its potential liability for the actions of its volunteers. Myth 3 Organizations can’t completely control what … Continued

Survey Sheds Light on Screening Practices of Volunteer Organizations

Survey Sheds Light on Screening Practices of Volunteer Organizations APRIL 22, 2008 — Washington, DC — At a press conference attended by representatives of prominent youth serving organizations and the local media, the

Insurance for Volunteer Programs

The following article is excerpted from Chapter 9 of No Surprises: Harmonizing Risk & Reward in Volunteer Management, 3rd Edition. Claims Against the Volunteer Fear of incurring personal liability for volunteer service isn’t uncommon among the estimated 90 million Americans who perform volunteer service each year. Volunteer board members may be targeted in suits alleging … Continued

Volunteer or Employee: Do You Know the Difference?

Volunteer or Employee: Do You Know the Difference? To get RISK HELP on classification and other HR issues throughout the year, join the Center as an Q: What is the definition of a volunteer? A: Federal law, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, (FLSA) defines individuals that provide services without any expectation of compensation, … Continued

Employee or Volunteer: What’s the Difference?

By Melanie Lockwood Herman Nonprofit organizations frequently depend on the service and commitment of volunteers as well as the labor of employees. The skills and talents of both types of workers bring nonprofit missions to life. At first glance, the simple difference between these two types of workers is that employees get paid and volunteers … Continued

Developing Risk Management Policies for Your Volunteer Program

There is no single way or ideal approach to managing the risks that arise from volunteer service. In No Surprises: Harmonizing Risk and Reward in Volunteer Management, the Nonprofit Risk Management Center explores various facets of risk associated with volunteer programs and organizations. This popular book, now offered as a 5th edition, outlines practical ways … Continued

Risk on the Road: Managing Volunteer Driver Exposures

Many nonprofits rely on volunteer drivers to help fulfill their programs and services. Whether the drivers are taking seniors to medical appointments or bringing meals or library books to those unable to leave their homes, opportunities abound for volunteers to fill a much-needed gap in transportation services in our communities. Nonprofit leaders are often concerned … Continued