The importance of volunteer screening in human services organizations
By Robert J. Brewer
On an annual basis, approximately 63 million people across the United States volunteer. That’s according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a U.S. federal government agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, Senior Corps, and other national service initiatives. Active volunteers help to improve the overall reach of an organization; however, they also create additional risks.
Independent agents serve as critical advisers to human services organizations and are uniquely positioned to help them identify possible risks.
A common misconception is that organizations are not liable for the actions of their volunteers since they are not paid employees. While the federal Volunteer Protection Act offers liability protection for individual volunteers, it does not protect the organization. However, the pairing of broad, thoughtful insurance protection and proactive risk management efforts can help protect human service agencies, allowing them to focus on their missions.
Standards of volunteer management
A well-designed volunteer manage-ment program helps protect both the volunteers and the individuals served by the volunteer organizations. Such strong programs typically include:
- Documented policies and guidelines that outline responsibilities of employees and volunteers
- Onboarding practices that include thorough background checks of all applicants—criminal, sex offender, ID verification, drug screenings and motor vehicle
- In-person training with materials overviewing the organization’s mission, policies and safety guidelines
- Waiver forms for volunteers, if necessary
- Consistent supervision of volunteers and their tasks
- Rescreening of all volunteers at predetermined intervals
Independent agent role
Independent agents serve as critical advisers to human services organizations and are uniquely positioned to help them identify possible risks. Asking for an overview of human service clients’ volunteer management programs could help assess risks and identify any possible gaps in coverage where they could benefit from rounding out their accounts.
There are number of instances where organization’s insurance policies may need to be reviewed. Let’s look at just a few of the more common ones:
- A human services organization uses volunteers to provide support for after-school programs. Due to the amount of client interaction, it would be a good idea to review the organization’s employment practices, general and professional liability policies.
- A volunteer uses his or her own vehicle to complete a task for the organization or to transport clients. In this scenario, reviewing the organization’s commercial auto policies could help ensure that the organization is best protected.
- Volunteers are responsible for managing and screening finances for the organization. Coverage may be needed to help protect against fund transfer fraud and forgery.
The power of partnership
Human services agencies often collaborate with other organizations, government forces and corporations to expand their reach.
Similarly, independent agents can offer additional value to their human services clients by partnering with carriers that provide added resources, helping these organizations to stretch their already-thin budgets. For example, some insurance carriers specializing in human and social services offer robust insurance protection that can be customized to an organization’s specific needs. These specialty carriers often provide services such as on-site risk consultation, training resources, and discounts on third-party services, such as background screening.
Together, independent agents and their carrier partners can help provide the key coverages and services to keep these important organizations protected. n
Robert J. Brewer is vice president of industry solutions at The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc.
DO YOUR CLIENTS SCREEN VOLUNTEERS?
Failure to properly vet volunteers may increase risk and liability. It’s no secret that volunteer screening procedures could use improvement. According to data from GuideStar by Candid, Sterling Volunteers, and Points of Light Foundation:
- 58% of organizations do not screen all volunteers
- 88% of organizations do not screen infrequent or one-time-only volunteers
- 16% of organizations mandate drug tests and carry out health screenings
- 21% of organizations screen volunteers on more than one occasion