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Risky Business: A Recap of September’s Think Tank Conversation

Think Tank Conversations are bi-monthly communities of practice for those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we’ve created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer engagement specialists face in their roles. The Fall 2018 lineup of Think Tank Conversations are about Risk. First up was the September Think Tank where we tackled the question of risk and what it actually means in our organizations. Read on for what Think Tankers had to say. 

Risk looks different in every organization and the busy grind means we don’t take the time to actually examine all of its elements. The Volunteering Screening Handbook by Volunteer Canada has some definitions to help organizations think about risks. Think Tankers examined a few of those and explored what those definitions actually mean in practice. What are the implications of this definition for organizations?

Duty of care is a volunteer manager’s obligation to take reasonable measures to care for and protect staff, clients, participants, volunteers and the organization to an appropriate standard. The appropriate standard of care is dependent on the situation and risks. It is a legal principle that is designated to protect vulnerable individuals from manipulation or harm.”

Sounds intimidating, right?

Well for our Think Tankers it meant “always being up to date with best practices surrounding volunteering.” They felt duty of care sets the need for policies, screening practices and constant communication during a volunteer’s service to garner feedback. For one Think Tanker it meant continued training — orientation should not end on the day they start volunteering, instead it should be a constant practice that keeps communication channels open between volunteers and your organization.

How about this one:

Standard of care refers to the degree or level of service, attention, care and protection that one person owes another. Individuals and organizations are not legally required to absolutely guarantee that no harm will come to their client, their staff or the community at large. However, “the standard of care expected in individual circumstances is that of a reasonable or prudent person.”

For this one, they brainstormed actual processes and tools. In order to provide a good standard of care volunteers need to be aware of the risks. Do you know what the risks are for each volunteer role? Hazard or risk assessments are a good way to understand each volunteer role. Volunteer engagement should be reciprocal and two way- find out what volunteers know, explore ways to help them understand what you see as risks and what they see as a risk. Your volunteers might have boundaries and needs you haven’t considered. Volunteer Alberta has a great risk assessment matrix. We blew this up on a whiteboard and Think Tankers marked where their roles fell on the matrix:


There were a few “ahas” from the group. Some realized their roles actually had more risk than they thought and it was time to relook at policies and guidelines.

The truth is, we can’t stop bad things from happening in our organizations. This was a key takeaway from our meeting. The only solution to risk is doing everything to be prepared. Have a plan, do your assessments and, most importantly, keep communication lines open between yourself and volunteers. Here are some other key takeaways:

  • Risk is unavoidable
  • Professional helping relationships- that should be the foundation of volunteer’s interactions with your organization
  • Be reasonable
  • Take the time to craft a risk strategy/plan
  • Know what risk is associated with each role
  • Have a three-prong risk approach: volunteers, staff, client — they’re all involved.

Helpful Resources:

Curious what’s been on the minds of Edmonton’s volunteer managers lately? Read more of our recent Think Tank recaps:

Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer Recognition

Volunteer Retention