Volunteers are individuals who choose to give freely of their time, energy, and talents to help other people, causes, or organizations, without expectation of compensation, financial or otherwise. The main reasons why people volunteer are to help others, to promote causes they believe in, and/or to accomplish what they consider to be worthwhile goals. Volunteers also benefit through learning new skills and resume building, which enhance their personal and professional growth.
Fifty years ago, associations were just getting started. Since then, they have experienced rapid growth and have had an enormous influence on the professions they serve, as well as on the public. Associations provide vehicles for people to make a difference in their professions and in thousands of causes. Fueling those vehicles takes dedicated and hardworking volunteers. According to a recent study conducted by the Hudson Institute, there are more than 87,000 associations in the United States. These associations employ 500,000 professional staff, but are supported by 36 million volunteers.
Most non-profit professional associations and societies were founded and organized by volunteer leaders who sought to create a forum for shared values and intellectual growth.
URISA certainly could not function without the time and talent that our members freely provide. Truly, volunteers are the lifeblood of URISA.
URISA's NEW Leadership Development and Succession Planning Committee will be working on a program to better communicate volunteer opportunities and make volunteering easier and more satisfying!
You can volunteer for as little as 30 minutes (make a few phone calls to potential members or talk about URISA at your local user group meeting); or become more involved by authoring publications or organizing an educational event. Whatever amount of time you have to give, URISA has an important project that would benefit from your involvement.
URISA is fortunate to have over 200 volunteers working on a wide variety of projects. And, with our recent program expansion, we are still looking for more! However, before you volunteer you should consider the legal and financial aspects of volunteering.
As a result of ever-increasing lawsuits in America, many volunteers are wondering exactly what their liability is with regard to their volunteer work. According to a Gallup study, at least one in ten nonprofit organizations has experienced the resignation of a volunteer because of liability concerns.
To help address these concerns, on June 18, 1997 President Clinton signed into law the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.
The Act provides that a volunteer of a nonprofit organization will generally be relieved of liability for any harm caused by the volunteer's act or omission if 1) the volunteer was acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities; 2) the volunteer was properly licensed or certified (where applicable); 3) the harm was not caused by willful, criminal, or reckless misconduct, gross negligence, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed; and 4) the volunteer was not operating a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft.
Even for those volunteers who do not qualify for immunity because they are unable to satisfy these standards, the statute still gives relief from punitive damages, as well as from joint and several liability for non-economic losses.
Of course, the Act does not provide protection for conduct that constitutes a crime of violence or an act of terrorism or a hate crime; for conduct that involves a sexual offense or a civil rights violation; or for conduct undertaken while the volunteer is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
While the Act is good news for Associations and volunteers' alike, certain areas of the Act are still unclear and some areas are simply not covered. For example, while the Act does provide broad relief, it does nothing to stop a person or organization from bringing a lawsuit against a volunteer. Even when you have the law on your side, the cost of defending yourself against a claim, even a vexatious one, can be daunting.
To help mitigate any potential difficulty a volunteer may face, URISA purchases Directors and Officers Liability Insurance. This policy covers all Directors, Officers, Trustees, Committee Members, Chapter Leaders, and other volunteers provided that they are members in good standing of URISA International and are performing work at the specific direction of URISA. The insurance coverage protects these volunteers if they are required to pay or defend themselves against claims or losses for:
Before becoming a volunteer, we always suggest that members get the support of their employer. This is due, in part, to the financial commitment that an organization makes on behalf of the employee, as well as the fact that volunteer duties sometimes occur during work hours.
Most URISA Committees operate within a budget set annually and approved by the Board of Directors. Budgets do not include costs of travel and accommodations for volunteers to attend URISA educational programs, even if a Committee meeting is scheduled during the event. While partial reimbursement of travel and other related costs is permitted in the URISA Bylaws, these costs are usually borne by your employer. Of course, many Committees have little need for travel as they meet only in conjunction with other conferences or do their work remotely, via email and/or conference call. For example, the URISA Publications Committee may meet at the URISA Annual Conference, where most members are already present. Interim meetings are regularly held via conference call.
Before beginning work on a Committee, it is important that you establish with the Committee Chair what the financial commitments are. If you ever have a question about this, a quick call to URISA Headquarters can assist you in understanding potential costs of volunteerism.
Volunteers are the life-blood of URISA. That's why we continue to do everything possible to make your volunteer experience a positive one, and to provide insurance to protect those that serve their profession as a URISA volunteer. We hope you'll consider volunteering for URISA!
Questions? Contact URISA (847) 824-6300.