Nonprofit Volunteering: Considerations When Engaging Interns

Nonprofit organizations often bring in volunteers to help with a multitude of operational and outreach tasks. Other unpaid workers typically used by nonprofits are interns. Using interns is a great way for organizations to continue to fulfill their missions while at the same time, train future nonprofit leaders. Whether volunteers or interns, these individuals have one thing in common: They agree to do all their good work without pay.

Like volunteers, if interns become injured, hold a nonprofit liable for negligence or intentional misconduct, or feel they are being forced to perform duties outside what they agreed to do, they could hold the organization legally liable.

According to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC), too many nonprofits recruit interns without giving much thought to the risks related to engaging and managing these workforce members.

To help mitigate potential risks with interns, the NRMC offers the following nonprofit volunteering considerations:

Carefully consider the onboarding process
Provide interns with a clear and detailed written description of their duties – not just a quick overview.

Include instructions for important workplace protocols, such as:

·         Phone etiquette

·         Office/facility safety

·         Appropriate use of computers and the internet

Use the buddy system
Assign a supervisor or nonprofit volunteering expert to serve as a coach while the intern gets to know the organization. According to the NRMC, “Interns seek to learn and develop skills, so it is crucial that an experienced employee is there to guide, nurture, and mentor them.”

Having someone readily available to help answer questions and train an intern will go a long way in mitigating potential risks that could lead to a lawsuit.

Provide new opportunities
Interns differ from nonprofit volunteers in that they are looking to experience firsthand the processes, practices, and inner workings of the organization – but they are doing so for a career building purpose. For these reasons, nonprofits need to allow interns the opportunity to participate in a wide array of experiences.

The NRMC suggests involving interns in “conference calls, writing articles, speaking to clients — and any other tasks that your paid employees fulfill. [This] will allow interns to develop diverse practical skills while learning more about [their] strengths and weaknesses.”

These considerations aren’t meant to offer hard-hitting legal advice. However, they do present good information that can help your nonprofit clients better mitigate potential legal risks by providing a clear description of an intern’s duties and responsibilities – giving them the guidance they need while learning the ropes, and affording them the experiences and tools to succeed in order to best serve the organization.

About Charity First
Charity First is committed to providing our retail partners across the country with best-in-class underwriting, consistent and responsive service, and risk management services that include directors & officers liability insurance and accident insurance for volunteers and participants.

To learn more, please contact us at 800-352-2761 or