Picture this: Your employees team up with one of your nonprofit partners to build a playground over the weekend. Your team arrives and receives instructions on their roles from the nonprofit’s volunteer coordinator. However, before your employees can start constructing swing sets and laying wood chips, the nonprofit volunteer coordinator asks each individual to sign a waiver.
If you have a robust corporate volunteerism program, there’s no doubt you’ve encountered a volunteer opportunity that calls for a waiver. Waivers are commonplace, whether they’re slips of paper passed around with a clipboard and pen or they’re digital forms signed with your finger at an easy-to-use waiver kiosk.
But many people sign waivers without asking why they’re signing. And most people sign them quickly, eager to get on with the activity they’re going to participate in without dwelling too long on the risk they’re being required to acknowledge.
Just because waivers often go unnoticed doesn’t mean they aren’t critical to the activity at hand. As you facilitate volunteer opportunities for your employees, it’s important for you to understand the protections that waivers provide for all parties involved. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the types of situations that call for a waiver. The good news is that we’re here to help. In this post, we’ll cover:
- What a Waiver Does
- When to Use a Waiver
- Why Your Employees Should Sign a Waiver to Volunteer
Though waivers may seem like a no-brainer for activities like white water rafting and rock climbing, they’re essential to many other situations, like corporate volunteering. By understanding more about waivers, you can benefit from the protection they provide.
What a Waiver Does
A waiver is a legally-binding document a participant signs to acknowledge that the organization providing the activity they’re participating in is not responsible for unintentional incidents or cases of participant negligence.
In other words, when a volunteer, such as your employee, signs a waiver, they’re essentially acknowledging that they can’t take legal action against the organization they’re volunteering with if they’re harmed while volunteering.
When employees participate in social good programs, they expect that precautions will be in place so that they’re safe while they donate their time to a specific cause. Conversely, organizations that help you provide those volunteer opportunities also expect that they will be protected from legal action should something go wrong. That’s where the agreement between both parties comes in—with a waiver.
It’s crucial to understand the ins and outs of any document you’re asking employees to sign. Here are the key components that you’ll likely find in a nonprofit volunteer agreement:
- Releasor/Participant: Waivers generally require some standard contact information from the participant, like name, address, and phone number.
- Releasee/Organization: The organization will also provide their contact information.
- Effective Date: The date on a waiver marks when it was signed and went into effect.
- Acknowledgement of Potential Risk: Risk will mean something different in every industry, but this can include bodily injury, property damage, illness, or death.
- Assumption of Risk: Participants agree that they are assuming all reasonable risk associated with the activity in which they will be participating.
- Insurance: The organization will often make it clear that their insurance will not cover injury, illness, or death, and that participants should plan on using their own.
- Confirmation of Review: The participant acknowledges that they have read and understood the document, and that they’re signing it voluntarily.
- Signature: Both participants and the volunteer coordinator (or other acting party on behalf of the nonprofit) sign.
Many organizations opt to use virtual waiver software to streamline the waiver signing process. Understanding what waiver software does can make your team more comfortable signing these documents. For example, online waiver provider Smartwaiver includes features to help the organization capture accurate information and store it securely.
Knowing what a good waiver looks like, your job as an employer facilitating a corporate volunteer opportunity is to ensure that your employees sign waivers as needed. You’ll also want to make sure your employees are aware of the risks they’re assuming in signing these documents.
When to Use a Waiver
Waivers are essential for any corporate volunteering situation in which an employee will face some sort of risk. As acknowledged above, risks change industry by industry. For example, a nonprofit that builds houses will have different risks associated with their volunteer events than an organization that cleans local rivers.
There are, however, some specific instances when employees should sign waivers:
- Corporate volunteer days. Your employees might be managing a blood drive, mentoring local students, or hosting a charity auction. Whatever the activity, corporate volunteer days are large undertakings for both your company and your nonprofit partners. Typically, dedicated corporate volunteer days have a lot of moving parts, so ensuring that employees are aware of any risks that they might encounter is a great way to keep the day’s events running smoothly.
- Events that risk COVID-19 transmission. As the world emerges from the pandemic, it’s a good idea to require a COVID-19 waiver for any in-person volunteering events your employees might participate in. COVID-19 waivers allow your employees to gauge whether or not they feel comfortable participating in an in-person opportunity where they have a chance of contracting the virus or bringing it home to loved ones. This keeps your employees and their families safe, and helps to keep your community of employees healthy, too.
- Events when there will be physical risk or injury. Sometimes risks are more obvious than others. For example, if your employees are volunteering one weekend to walk shelter dogs, it’s possible that someone might be bitten by a dog. If you know in advance that there is a risk that your employees could be physically injured, make sure to communicate with your nonprofit partner and make sure there is a plan for your employees to sign waivers. It’ll protect you, your nonprofit partner, and your employees in the event of an injury.
If you’re wondering if your employees should sign a waiver before volunteering, our advice is this: it’s better to be safe than sorry. Digital waivers are especially fast and easy to sign, so why not make sure the proper protections are in place before a volunteering event?
Why Your Employees Should Sign a Waiver to Volunteer
Waivers sometimes make people hesitant to participate in an activity. After all, they’re being asked to assume responsibility for any harm that might come to them, and no one likes to dwell on the thought of being harmed.
But in the end, waivers actually benefit every party involved in corporate volunteerism. Here are four reasons why your employees should sign a waiver when they volunteer:
- Waivers protect your company’s relationship with your nonprofit partners. Nonprofits don’t have the time or money to get caught up in stressful legal battles. By handing the liability of volunteer activities over to the volunteers, the organization can continue working to further their cause. This not only benefits the nonprofit by allowing them to continue doing good—it also helps ensure that your relationship with that organization can continue far into the future. That means you can continue providing your employees with volunteering options. According to InitLive’s guide to corporate volunteerism, opportunities like these create purpose-driven employees, which helps you with recruitment and retention in the long run.
- Waivers protect your employees by encouraging them to acknowledge their risk. When an employee signs a waiver and agrees to assume the risk of the volunteer activity they’ll be participating in, what they’re really doing is walking into that activity with their eyes wide open. Though it might seem like a waiver only benefits the organization that is protected from legal liability, it also gives the signer an opportunity to think through what risks they’ll encounter during the activity. Your employees will appreciate the transparency from your nonprofit partner, increasing employee participation in your company’s efforts to be socially responsible.
- Waivers are tools that allow all parties to quickly and easily get back to their real work. When you schedule a time for your employees to volunteer, you and your employees are there to help complete tasks that keep the organization’s cause moving forward. Similarly, when a nonprofit hosts your company’s employees as volunteers, they want to take full advantage of that time when they have extra helping hands. Instead of dwelling on risks throughout the volunteering experience, waivers allow all the parties involved to quickly set boundaries and define who is responsible for what. That means you can all get back to the real work—giving back.
At the end of the day, waivers are documents designed to provide protection for all involved parties. They enable you to preserve your relationships with nonprofit partners, encourage employees to participate in volunteering, and help you focus on your larger social good goals.
Waivers may not be top of mind for you as you’re working to provide corporate volunteerism opportunities. But waivers are a necessary part of the volunteer experience, as they protect your employees, your company, and your nonprofit partners. When your employees sign a waiver before volunteering, they get the chance to walk into the volunteer opportunity knowing the risks they’re taking on.
And once a waiver is signed, you and your employees can return to your goals of giving back to the community.
Daryl McCarl is the Director of Business Development at Smartwaiver, the leading digital waiver service trusted by thousands of organizations around the world.