There is risk in everything we do–from driving our cars to investing our money, we accept that something could always go wrong. When I took up rollerblading a few months ago, I knew there was a chance I could fall and hurt myself. I took the necessary precautions. I bought a helmet, knee pads, and wrist guards, and practiced on a flat surface before moving on to uncertain terrain. Nonetheless, I still managed to flip myself backwards and break my wrist. I knew I had nobody but myself to blame–not the rollerblades or wrist guard company, or even the public park where I was skating.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Often, when accidents or mishaps occur, people look for someone to blame, and “turn to the courts” to resolve their problems. This is why it’s incredibly important for organizations, especially non-profits, to be prepared with risk management policies. These policies not only protect the organization, but also the volunteers serving the organization. This is critical because the roles of volunteers are often “inherently risky.”As a 4-H Agent, I understand the importance of risk management because the populations we serve are all under the age of 18.
I find that the best way to approach risk management is to be prepared. For instance, training your volunteers can help ensure that they are prepared to deal with emergency situations. Each year, I hold a kickoff training for my club leaders. We always do a risk management refresher, and this past year I handed out specific scenarios that actually happened, and had them discuss the best way to prevent and/or handle those situations. This is also helpful because it’s always important to consider, “what went wrong?” and plan so that it doesn’t happen again in the future–“a non-profit that learns from its experiences is in the strongest possible position to reduce the chance of recurrence.” For example, at our summer 4-H Camp, we used to allow the teen counselors some social time in their lobbies after lights out. Unfortunately, we had an incident where a camper was bullied at night while the counselor was out of the room. This caused us to change our policy and train the counselors to remain in their rooms at night.
Developing risk management policies and procedures takes a lot of planning and thought, and these are just a few steps to the process. At times, as you consider the implications of your planned programs, it can be tempting to avoid the risk all together. However, keep in mind that there is a certain amount of risk involved in life in general, and “what you gain by accepting risk is as great as what you lose by avoiding it.”