What Your Nonprofit Clients Need To Know About The Volunteer Protection Act

The actions of a volunteer can create liabilities for your nonprofit clients in the form of personal injury claims. And while most states offer some type of volunteer protection law for the negligent acts of volunteers, laws vary from state to state and are primarily aimed at protecting volunteers from personal liability — not the organization.

The federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997

The federal VPA of 1997, or ACT, was created to help encourage individuals to become volunteers by reducing their personal liability. It was also meant to provide consistent protection for all nonprofit personnel since state laws vary.

The NonProfit Times describes the ACT as a patchwork of laws offering limited immunity from personal liability for volunteers and is fraught with special requirements and/or exceptions. It goes on to note that the ACT offers immunity for volunteers for acts of “ordinary negligence that were committed while volunteering for a nonprofit or governmental organization.”

Under the ACT, a volunteer for a nonprofit generally won’t be held personally liable for harm if:[1] 

  • They acted within the scope of the volunteer activity.
  • They were properly licensed or certified (if required to perform an activity).
  • Harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a vehicle, vessel or aircraft.
  • Harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the claimant.

As straightforward as it may appear, the ACT is a complex law with a multitude of conditions, qualifications and limitations. In fact, since its inception, it has been scrutinized regarding its actual practicality. And, because no federal agency is authorized to interpret the law, court determinations of whether volunteers should be held personally liable will likely continue to be made on a case-by-case basis.[2]

Scope of liability

The ACT covers volunteers for organizations that are exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Also covered are volunteers of not-for-profit organizations that are organized and conducted for public benefit and operated primarily for charitable, civic, educational, religious, welfare or health purposes.[3] The ACT affects neither any civil action brought by the nonprofit organization or governmental entity against the volunteer nor the organization’s/entity’s liability with respect to harm a volunteer may cause.

The VPA of 1997 does not apply to misconduct that:[4]

  • Constitutes a crime or act of terrorism as defined by federal law.
  • Constitutes a hate crime.
  • Involves a sexual offense.
  • Involves misconduct for which the volunteer has violated a federal or state civil rights law.
  • Occurred when the volunteer was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It’s important to note that in 2017, a bill was created to amend the ACT so that it would allow expanded liability protections to nonprofit organizations against harm caused by an act or omission of a volunteer. Unfortunately, the attempted passage of the bill was unsuccessful.[5]


There is a lot to know regarding the ACT and we’ve only scratched the surface. The key takeaway would be that the ACT does not protect the nonprofit organization from litigation – only the volunteer. Simply put, the organization may be held liable for the negligent actions of a volunteer.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the organization make sure its volunteers are acting in a lawful manner while carrying out the duties assigned by the nonprofit. As a broker, you can help by addressing possible risk exposures and the critical role of having the right insurance coverage to protect the organization against bodily injury and property damage claims by volunteers.

About Charity First

When it comes to working with nonprofits, we understand that your clients are often asked to do more with less. It’s why we’ve always made it our goal to provide your clients with more insurance options and protection at an affordable cost. Since 1985, Charity First has helped retail brokers find the right insurance coverage for their nonprofit clients so organizations can maintain stability now and into the future. To learn more, please contact us at 800-352-2761 or marketing@charityfirst.com.


[1] The NonProfit Times.

[2] Hot Air Ballooning.

[3] CGA.CT.Gov.

[4] CGA.CT.Gov.

[5] GovTrack.