Guest Blog Post: Insurance and Youth Volunteers

Many volunteers spend their time with non-profit organizations because the purpose and vision of what you’re doing in your communities resonates with their own goals, passions, and motivation to give back. Having volunteers comes with benefits and risks. Having youth volunteers may invite different benefits and risks than having only adult volunteers.

As an organization, an important step to take is to make sure that you have insurance in place that you understand and regularly review, to protect both the non-profit and the youth who work and volunteer with your organization.

What is insurance and why does your organization need an insurance advisor?

Insurance is a way of managing risks. When you buy insurance, you transfer the cost of a potential loss to the insurance company in exchange for a fee, known as the premium.

Your relationship with your insurance advisor is important, they are a resource who can explain how an insurance policy can protect both the non-profit and the volunteers. They can recommend the coverage you may need for your organization. Insurance advisors can help you to better understand where and how your volunteers can be protected.

Decision making surrounding risk management should be a normal part of your organization’s planning and structure. This will involve identifying risk of injury or loss to all parties, the participants, the volunteers, and your organization during the organization’s activities. While considering the possible vulnerability of both the receiver of the services and the youth volunteer, there may be higher risk that either could be harmed due to the challenges of working with youth volunteers (more supervision and training is usually required). Measures can be taken to minimize, prevent or eliminate the risk once identified.

The Victoria Foundation1 shares in their risk management tip sheet1 that “Risk Management in volunteer programs is necessary because of ethical and legal duty of care. 

Volunteer managers are obligated to:

  • Prevent harm to others including volunteers, staff, clients, and stakeholders.
  • Reduce the probability and size of operational losses or harm.
  • Stimulate recovery from these losses and rebuild reputation and strength.”

Legal Duty of care as defined by Public Safety Canada2 is “the obligation to exercise a level of care towards an individual, as is reasonable in all the circumstances, to avoid injury to that individual or their property. Duty of care is based upon the relationship of the parties, the negligent act or omission and the reasonable foreseeability of loss to that individual. A negligent act is an unintentional but careless act, which results in loss. Only a negligent act will be regarded as having breached a duty of care.” 2

Many non-profit organizations’ activities need volunteers; those who provide a service or activity, assisting the community at large, without receiving a salary or wage for their service or activity. These organizations have a duty of care towards volunteers, just as the volunteers also have a duty of care to the individuals or organizations they are serving. Due to the vulnerability of the youth volunteers, the expectations surrounding duty of care towards the youth can be higher.

Insurance risk

There are benefits to understanding the various types of risks to consider from an insurance perspective.

  • Liability Risk: Encompasses the financial impact of being sued resulting from causing unintended injury or damage to other parties.
  • Financial Risk: Risk associated with financing and other financial transactions.
  • Property Risk: Relates mostly to damage or destruction of property such as a home, building, farm, or vehicles. The financial impact of rebuilding or replacing it can be substantial.
  • Personal Risk: Anything that exposes you to the risk of losing something of value. Usually, personal risk is associated with your financial investments and insurance.

Your organization is exposed to risk through the actions of your activities. There are several ways you can manage these risks.

  • Reduce: Lessen the potential damage that could be caused by a hazard or danger.

While working with youth volunteers, you could have guidelines and rules in place that allow the youth to participate in certain activities, under strict measures and supervision.

  • Eliminate: Remove hazards or avoid activities that negatively impact the organization or exceed risk tolerance.

You can set activities or jobs as off limits or prohibited to volunteers under a certain age. Ensure these activities do not involve youth volunteers by setting up strict guidelines and straightforward delivery of expectations around off limit activities.

  • Assume: Conscious or knowing acceptance of a risk inherent to the activity.

These may be the activities set up for youth volunteers specifically. Knowing the risk in the activity identified is minimal and having these available for youth, presents a great way to incorporate them into the organization and grow them into fine volunteers.

  • Transfer: Contractual shift of a risk from one party to another.

Parents could sign a waiver and be present for orientation. Discuss these options with your lawyer.

Managing Volunteer Risk

This is intended to provide guidance and recommendations to help you establish processes and decrease your risk.

  • Understand volunteer limitations: It is important to consider volunteer limitations when engaging them in various activities. Provide appropriate safety equipment and monitoring to limit injuries. Youth may require more supervision and additional training due to their age and inexperience. They may also require a chaperone or buddy system.
  • Maintain your premises: Follow similar procedures to reduce the likelihood and severity of liability claims – clear walkways, safe work areas, proper signage, and emergency procedures, etc. Volunteers are exposed to similar risks as the people who benefit from your services. Provide clear instructions and expectations to your youth volunteers around their behavior and actions on premises.
  • Training for volunteers: Volunteers are an important part of a non-profit. No matter what they are engaged in, whether it’s for a single event or an ongoing commitment to the non-profit, ensure you provide training appropriate to how they will be helping. Regular check-ins and feedback from youth volunteers will help you to determine they are comfortable and understand the expectations. It gives them an opportunity to develop the skills to ask for help and provides excellent mentorship opportunities.

What type of insurance?

Understanding insurance is important to manage your organizations risk.  Insurance in its simplest form is one way of managing negative risk and the financial implications of a loss.

Essential liability coverage3 for financial protection against lawsuits can include:

  • Commercial General Liability
  • Tenants Legal Liability
  • Non-Owned Auto Liability

There is specialty liability coverage3 to protect you from claims arising from your actions:

  • Directors’ and Officers’ and Employment Practices Liability
  • Errors & Omissions Liability
  • Abuse or Sexual Misconduct Liability
  • Blanket Accident Insurance

Rather than defining each of these liability coverages, it is strongly recommended that you connect with your insurance advisor to discuss the unique needs of your organization and the details of your policy, as they are not all the same.

Young leaders of today

Youth volunteer in their communities to learn work skills, find mentors, grow and discover their passions, establish employment experience, and increase their abilities.

Regular updates and verification of policies and practices, along with a regular review of your insurance will protect your non-profit and the youth engaging with it, along with the recipients of your services.

Open encouragement for youth to participate with your organization will allow the young leaders of today to develop the skills needed for the non-profit sector to continue to thrive. The benefits of youth volunteering often outweigh the risks when thoughtful risk management is promoted.

Who are we?

Co-operators is an insurance co-operative, built with purpose.

Back in 1945, Co-operators was founded by a group of farmers who decided to work together to ensure everyone’s success. To this day, our business decisions are guided by our co-operative principles: to balance the need for profitability with our commitment to serving members and operating in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Over 75 years later, this purpose remains as relevant as ever.

Our unique heritage and approach to business provide us with an opportunity to differentiate ourselves and is an important part of our clients’ experience.

Co-operators in your community: Co-operators staff and Financial Advisors have been making Canadian communities safer, healthier, and more resilient for decades.

Resources cited:

1Victoria Foundation Risk Management Tip Sheet:

2Public Safety Canada best screening practices:

3Essential and specialty liability coverage additional information: