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Volunteers and employees are highly valued by organizations; however, they are also very different. Employees are engaged in a position that provides direct financial compensation while volunteers are in a position that provides different benefits to a volunteer’s life. Employees are highly protected by both state and federal laws for things such as minimum wage, family leave, unemployment, and child labor laws. The federal government also protects volunteers in the Volunteer Protection Act (1997) and “immunizes a volunteer from liability for harm caused by ordinary negligence, and prohibits the recovery of punitive damages unless the volunteer’s conduct was willful, criminal, or in conscious flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the claimant” (p. 5). Employees need to be protected for their hours and against unlawful termination, while volunteers need to be protected from being sued if they make a mistake in any capacity.

When an organization chooses to bring on volunteers to help support their programs, they take a risk. Connors (2011) stated “risks generally cluster into five categories: people, property, income, goodwill, and liability” (p. 323). A volunteer could potentially make mistakes with clients, misuse equipment, or harm the company’s reputation in the community. Recently, my organization was in the media with reports that we were putting children at risk by putting them in homes without appropriately trained caregivers. We have a program called Safe Families that offers to the general public the ability to place their child in a volunteer’s home temporarily if they need a few weeks without their children but do not want child protective services involvement. Many families that utilize this program are homeless or need to go to rehab/jail for a short time so the volunteers take care of their children while the parents do not lose their parental rights or become involved with the courts. While in theory this is an amazing program, it comes with its fair share of risks because there is complete liability on our organization rather than on the county with a judge, social worker, and trained foster parents. Any organization that strives to have a large volunteer population must be prepared to deal with possible repercussions if they arise.


Connors, T. D. (2011). Wiley nonprofit law, finance and management series: volunteer management handbook: leadership strategies for success (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, 42 U.S.C. § 14501 (1997, May 19). Retrieved from…

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