10 Common Policy Gaps for Nonprofits Working with Vulnerable Populations

Volunteer Managers, with all the hats you wear as part of your job, it can be tempting (and understandably so!) to put off revamping the policies and practices that keep you, your organization and volunteers safe and working as efficiently as possible. But make sure you don't give into that temptation. After all, problem areas exist in most nonprofits' policies and practices, especially those working with vulnerable populations. Bottom line: there is likely room for improvement in yours.

Take a few minutes to read over the most common gaps found in many nonprofits' policies and practices. After reading our list, we hope you'll review your own policies and identify areas for growth and revisions.

  1. Supervision and oversight is inadequate.
    • Gap: Your safety and training program has been allocated to only one person within your organization to manage.
    • Recommendation: Put together a safety and training committee that shares the responsibilities of this program and can provide checks and balances for one another. Draw on the strengths, experiences, and skills of each person on the committee.
  2. Compliance is not ensured by the board.
    • Gap: The board ensured that policies and procedures were written, but there has never been a policy audit to confirm that these policies have been implemented and followed.
    • Recommendation: Schedule an annual review to ensure policies are being followed and that your organization and volunteers are benefiting from them.
  3. Screening is insufficient.
    • Gap: Maybe your nonprofit only screens those working with vulnerable populations, or screening is limited to only a national database search.
    • Recommendation: We recommend that all staff, volunteers and the board are screened - and are rescreened on an annual basis. Consult with an advisor in the background screening industry to understand what a high quality background check entails and should include.
  4. Documentation is not being kept permanently.
    • Gap: Documentation (i.e. personnel records, attendance records, registration forms and consent forms) is being destroyed.
    • Recommendation: When it comes to minor abuse prevention, insurance companies and legal counsel recommend that documentation be kept permanently.
  5. Reporting guidelines conflict with legislation.
    • Gap: Regarding cases of abuse related to your organization and its' constituents, you might require that staff or volunteers report incidents only to senior leadership.
    • Recommendation: It is recommended that you require all staff and volunteers to report incidents of abuse to Child Protection Agencies. In some cases, this is required by law and in some cases it is not, but it is always best practice.
  6. Reporting guidelines delay reports.
    • Gap: Related to the above, you might require your staff or volunteers to first report incidents of abuse to leadership to determine whether an investigation should be conducted, or for a decision to be made as to whether a report is necessary. However, this could delay or interfere with the reporting process, placing a vulnerable person at greater risk of harm or abuse.
    • Recommendation: It is recommended that any incidents of abuse are made immediately. This rule should be reflected in your policies and made clear to all staff and volunteers.
  7. Training is not being conducted by knowledgeable trainers.
    • Gap: Training is the foundation for an incredible volunteer and the key to their longevity with your nonprofit. So make sure whoever is doing the training knows their stuff and that the materials they are using are also accurate. Documentation that incorrectly communicates legislation and insurance standards could place your organization at risk.
    • Recommendation Commit to “training the trainers” within your organization so anyone training staff and volunteers is knowledgeable about your policies, legislation, etc. Retrain on an as-needed basis. If you do not have the capacity or knowledge to handle trainer training internally, seek out an organization that you can bring in periodically. There are organizations out that offer trainer training courses. These can be modified to fit the needs of your organization.
  8. Refresher training is not required annually.
    • Gap: Your organizational policy dots all the I's and crosses all the T's, but maybe you are not training folks within your organization on it, or you are not enforcing it.
    • Recommendation: Refresher training provides an opportunity to review gaps and areas of the policy that are not being followed and to put consequences for straying from these policies in place.
  9. There is inadequate abuse coverage in place.
    • Gap: Abuse coverage is often excluded from nonprofit insurance policies.
    • Recommendation: To qualify for abuse coverage, you must meet the requirements of your insurance company. Check with your insurance company to understand what requirements you must meet - and to get an idea of the level of coverage you should secure. 
  10. Operational procedures are missing parameters on interaction between minors and program leaders.
    • Gap: It's the 21st Century. Most of your staff and volunteers have cell phones, and access to vulnerable populations via text, phone call or social media. Policies that have not been updated in the last few years are often missing important operational procedures that limit engagement with the vulnerable sector.
    • Recommendation: Update policies to include appropriate interactions between staff/volunteers and the vulnerable sector both during and outside of scheduled program time.

So, are your organization's polices and practices up-to-date? Are any of these gaps applicable to you and your organization? We would like to hear your tips and tricks on how you keep your policies up-to-date! Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and share your comments below.* **

*This blog originally appeared on Plan to Protect's website.

**Always seek your legal counsel's advice before finalizing your organization's policies and practices.

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