This week we were saddened to learn of the death of volunteer Nikayla Powell, who was slain in her home by an acquaintance she met while volunteering.
By all reports Niki, 32, was an energetic, compassionate member of the community in her Portland, Ore., home town. For six months she volunteered on a weekly basis with a social service organization called Operation Nightwatch.
According to news articles, it was while volunteering that Niki befriended a homeless man. Ignoring the organization’s rules, she offered to put him up at her apartment. She was unaware that he was a registered sex offender. Today the man is in custody, charged with murder.
Risk Is a Fact of Life at Nonprofits
Bad, even terrible things, are a fact of life, and one thing that organizations learn over time is that none are exempt from risk — risk to brand, risk to program, risk to funding, or, in worst cases, risk to the safety and well-being of supporters, constituents, or staff.
Risk management and risk mitigation are the processes by which organizations deal with this reality. By creating policies, training staff to adhere to them, and communicating those policies well and often, nonprofits can reduce the likelihood of devastating losses of financial, legal or public support from unexpected risk.
Resources for Managing Risk
What are the components of risk management? For starters, organizations can reduce their risk liabilities via volunteer handbooks, training guides for staff, clear documentation processes, and frequent reminders.
Over in our Learning Center many of our webinars deal directly in risk assessment and management or else touch on those topics tangentially. If you are interested in exploring risk mitigation efforts, these webinars are a great place to start:
The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit – Discusses the importance of managing risk for your program and your organization. Attendees also receive examples of program documents and program assessment checklists to help you evaluate your existing program.
In addition, many of the webinars in our Core Volunteer Program Components series touch on best practices for managing risk, including sessions on creating a comprehensive program, creating an effective volunteer handbook, and conducting volunteer interviews.
It’s a beautiful world. In fact, 999 times out of 1,000 a mistake like this would be a non-issue, just a footnote in the day-to-day work of a local organization doing good. But risk lives in the .1%. It’s our job to keep it there.
How is your organization assessing or managing risk? Share your thoughts here.
Robert led VolunteerMatch's communications until 2014 and is editor of Volunteer Engagement 2.0. Today he lives in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he works with VSO, the leading INGO involving volunteers in the fight against poverty.