Like many nonprofits, your animal shelter or rescue may rely on volunteers using their personal vehicles to run errands or transport animals in your care. In the insurance community, these vehicles are referred to as non-owned autos. Even though non-owned autos are not the property of your animal shelter or rescue, you can still be held accountable when a volunteer is involved in a car accident. In some cases, animal shelters and rescues are sued for the damage caused in an accident.

The good news is you can protect your nonprofit animal shelter or rescue by purchasing non-owned auto liability insurance.

What is non-owned auto liability insurance?

Non-owned auto liability insurance provides coverage in excess of the volunteer’s personal auto insurance. It pays for liability claims that your animal shelter or rescue is found liable for and the volunteer’s personal auto insurance doesn’t cover.

Since the coverage is in excess of the personal auto insurance carried by the volunteer, most insurance companies require volunteers to carry a minimum of $100,000/300,000 in limits.

What does it exclude?

There is no coverage on the non-owned auto liability insurance for damage to the vehicle, injury to the volunteer, or lawsuits filed against the individual driver (volunteer).

What types of scenarios does it cover?

Any time a volunteer drives their personal vehicle on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue opens the door to potential risks and claims. Do your volunteers use their vehicles in any of the following scenarios?

  • Running errands: Post office, bank, pick up supplies at Wal-Mart or other stores?
  • Transport animals to events, foster homes, or the vet?
  • Take supplies to an adoption event?

Accidents are unpredictable and can occur during any drive.

What you need to know about minimizing your risks

Investing in non-owned auto liability insurance is the best way to protect your animal shelter or rescue in the event of an accident or lawsuit. There are steps you can take now to help minimize potential risks.

  • Create a cell-phone use policy.

Twenty-six percent (more than 1.1 million) of crashes reported are due to cell phone use, according to the National Safety Council. Having a cell-phone use policy sets the expectation that it is not acceptable for volunteers to use their cellphones  while driving on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue.

  • Request proof of insurance.

Ask volunteers for proof of auto insurance before they drive on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue. If they don’t have the minimums mandated by the insurance company, don’t let them drive on your behalf. Why? If there is an accident, your non-owned auto liability insurance policy won’t pay any costs associated with it.

  • Ask volunteers to sign waivers.

Waivers are one way to help prevent your volunteer from filing a lawsuit after a car accident. While they aren’t always iron-clad, they do minimize the number of claims filed and can help protect you if the volunteer was not abiding by the law.

  • Define the right way to transport animals.

Do you have a clear procedure for transporting animals? Or do your volunteers decide how to transport animals on their own? Animals can be a significant distraction to a driver if they are not properly placed in a moving vehicle. Make sure your volunteers understand the process and review their first few times to be sure they get it right.

  • Request motor vehicle records (MVRs).

Motor vehicle records show you an individual’s driving history so you can see if they are a high-risk driver. If a volunteer has a long list of vehicle incidents including crashes and speeding tickets, it might be better to find a lower-risk volunteer.

Most animal shelters and rescues think they don’t need to worry about insurance for volunteer vehicles. But the truth is, buying non-owned auto liability insurance and implementing these steps are the best ways to protect your animal shelter or rescue.

Animal shelters need daily visitors to adopt animals and continue helping the community. Across the country, animal shelters are struggling to increase the adoption rates. At the same time, families that want adopt are finding it difficult to do so. Shelter volunteers are trained to match animals with the best forever homes and often times their scrutiny makes the adopting family feel not welcome or unwanted.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Stop scaring away potential adopting families with these seven steps.

  1. Do a walkthrough. Schedule a time to walk through your shelter and take note of how it appears to potential adopters. Look for items that may be unappealing to individuals that do not actively work with animals on a daily basis. Clutter, dirt, and things that broken make your shelter look like you don’t care. Adopters are more likely to adopt from an organization that puts effort into their appearance.
  1. “Hire” a mystery adopter. As the director or lead volunteer, it is difficult to gauge exactly how adopters are treated when they contact your shelter. Recruit a mystery adopter to visit your animal shelter and take notes on the overall adoption process. Ask them to specifically update you on how they are treated during the process, if the volunteers are friendly, is the process easy to understand, or is it overwhelming.
  1. Keep it clean. Create a daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning schedule for your volunteers to use. This maintains the overall cleanliness of the shelter while breaking cleaning down into manageable sections that all volunteers can assist with.
  1. Minimize odors. Find a way to minimize odors when guests first walk into the shelter. It is obvious to most visitors that your building will smell like animals, but urine shouldn’t be the first and only thing they smell when they enter.
  1. Use a greeter. Have a volunteer act as a visitor greeter during open hours. Greeters are responsible for acknowledging, welcoming and thanking visitors for stopping by. They can also guide them to the waiting areas or to another volunteer responsible for giving them a tour of the kennels or cat room.
  1. Respond to every message. A common problem in shelters is the lack of time for responding to phone calls, e-mails, and social media messages. Schedule a volunteer to review these messages on a daily basis. They are responsible for screening incoming messages and distributing them to right individual or responding to those they are able to. This helps eliminate the pile up on your desk and makes you shelter standout for response time.
  1. Train volunteers on customer service. Not every volunteer has an understanding of customer service. It is important that you educate and communicate with volunteers on how they are expected to interact with potential adopters. Include role playing time after you review the expectations. Help them create easy to implement scripts from these sessions that make it easy to respond in the moment.

Benefits

Investing the time in creating a welcoming environment for adopting families is beneficial to you, your volunteers, and the animals you care for.

  1. Increased adoptions. Visitors are more willing to adopt when they feel welcomed in your shelter. Adoption rates will increase with consistent implementation of these steps.
  2. Happier volunteers. Volunteers are happy when they know their hard work bettering the animals’ lives.
  3. Increased awareness. As adoptions increase and volunteers show excitement for their work, more members of the community will hear about your shelter and the services you offer. Increased adoptions and donations are a direct result of increased awareness.

Take the time today to review your animal shelter setup. How does it appear to visitors? Use these steps to make improvements and improve your adoption rates.

Volunteers are a valuable asset for animal shelters and rescues. Without them, shelters and rescues would be unable to achieve their mission. In 2013, the IRS released a report stating that 85% of nonprofit organizations are run by volunteers and have no paid staff.  Volunteers are responsible for organizing adoption events, raising funds, and caring for the animals in their animal shelters or rescues. Last week we reviewed the importance of creating and maintaining a volunteer program. One of the prime aspects of that program is to implement a volunteer handbook.

Volunteers differ from paid employees. However, managing volunteers requires a similar skill set.  Employee handbooks are common in both small and large businesses.  Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues need to implement a similar handbook for volunteers.  Here are the two main benefits of a volunteer handbook:

  1. Sets Expectations. A handbook is a tool that defines what is expected of the volunteer during their time at the shelter. It also identifies what the volunteer should expect from the organization in return for their donated time.
  2. Protects the Animal Shelter or Rescue. Creating and identifying clear policies and procedures for your volunteer team minimizes liability. The handbook provides guidelines and rules for how negative circumstances will be handled and offers a no-surprise resolution for both parties.

A hurdle many directors face is how to create a concise and informative volunteer handbook. Here are 7 essential sections to include in your handbook:

  1. What is the story behind your animal shelter or rescue? Tell the story of how you formed. Include your goals, mission, and vision for volunteers to gain a better perspective of who they are serving.
  2. Set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Behavior expectations include how volunteers treat one another, the animals, and the public.  Define work expectations in this section as well. Work expectations include the number of volunteer hours, responsibilities, and the appropriate way to take a day of absence.
  3. Policies and procedures for responsibilities are a tremendous help in minimizing potential dangers or disasters. Explain these procedures in detail in the handbook. This assures you each volunteer has the information prior to volunteering.  This is the section you address volunteer training requirements including times and methods of training.
  4. One of the biggest responsibilities of a shelter or rescue is to take in dogs, cats, and other animals that need care. This section reviews the policies for incoming animals and addresses the intake process including standards your shelter or rescue follows.
  5. Rescues or shelters that foster animals need a section on foster home policies and procedures. Often times, foster parents are overlooked as volunteers because they are not at the physical shelter.  They are a vital part of your volunteer team.  The risks and requirements of foster homes differ from other policies and procedures.
  6. Animal adoption is a major part of your operation.  This section identifies the standards and timeframes your animal shelter or rescue follows prior to placing an animal with their forever home.  This section also addresses the requirements of adopting families.  It is important that all volunteers are aware of the expectations so they can help properly place animals.
  7. It is common for volunteer handbooks to include a receipt that the volunteers sign. The signature verifies they read the handbook and are aware of the expectations outlined.

Create a strong volunteer program starts by implementing a volunteer handbook.  Work with your legal counsel to create a handbook that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

 

Animal Shelters and rescues attend adoption events as exhibitors to help raise mission awareness and increase adoptions.  Events range from a small open house to a larger event with multiple animal shelters and rescues.  Deciding to attend an event comes with risks. Plan in advance to minimize these risks. Train your volunteer team on how their actions can help protect your animal shelter or rescue. Here are five things your animal shelter needs to know before attending a special event:

  1. Does the event align with your mission? Look at the mission or goal of the event.  Does their goal align with your mission? If the two do not align, the event is not in your best interest.  Attending an event that does not promote your mission, leaves you open to negative publicity or loss of a positive reputation.
  2. Read the contract. Most event organizers require you to comply with rules and an agreement to become an exhibitor. Make sure you read the contract or agreement to determine if you can meet these requirements. Common event guidelines include set-up and tear down times, proof of insurance, vaccine requirements for animals, and expectations for how you present yourself during the event. If you are unable to meet the requirements outlined in the agreement do not register as an exhibitor.  You risk a negative impact to your animal shelter or rescue if you attend and do not follow the guidelines.
  3. What can go wrong? Prior to attending an event, make a list of all the potential risks. Risks include animals getting loose, volunteers not showing, animals injuring attendees or volunteers.  Once you have a list of possibilities, create a proactive plan that identifies how you will minimize the potential for these.  For example, one significant risk is an animal jumping on an attendee and scratching that individual.  A plan to keep that from occurring includes making sure volunteers are assisting the attendees while talking to, petting and playing with the animals.
  4. Choose the right animals. Choosing the right animals to take is a key in minimizing the risk of injury to attendees. Your goal is to increase adoptions by attending the event.  Animals that have just recently entered your care may not be a good fit.  Choose animals that can handle social situations and interaction with strangers.  Animals that are skittish or easily scared have unpredictable behaviors and should remain at the shelter or in their foster home during events.
  5. Choose the right volunteer team. Volunteers who attend the event need to be knowledgeable of your animal shelter or rescue, your mission and how to present themselves during an event. If you choose to send new volunteers, make sure you pair them with an experienced volunteer that understands adoption event logistics and your expectations.

Adoption and special events are a powerful way to educate and involve your community with your shelter.  Follow these steps before attending an event to create a positive experience for all involved.

 

Volunteers are one of the cornerstones to running your animal shelter or rescue successfully.  You rely on them to help with day to day needs, care for the animals, organize events, spread the word about your mission, and be passionate about the great work they are doing. Did you know they are one of your biggest risks?  Volunteers are human and unpredictable in their actions.  To successfully manage their actions and minimize risk, implement an official volunteer program.  Here are the categories your program requires:

Volunteer Handbook

Volunteer handbooks contain valuable information about the animal shelter or rescue.  They provide new volunteers with:

  1. Background information
  2. Mission and Vision
  3. Application process
  4. Training expectations
  5. Behavior expectations
  6. Volunteer waiver
  7. Organization policies

Require new volunteers to review the handbook prior to completing a volunteer application.  This information sets the precedence for expectations during their time volunteering for your organization.

Volunteer Waivers

Volunteer waivers are typically included as part of the handbook.  They are vital for animal shelters and rescues to have in place.  A strong waiver includes:

  1. Release of liability for injury and bites
  2. Acceptance that injuries are not covered under a worker’s compensation policy
  3. Acceptance of policies and procedures
  4. Emergency contact information
  5. Release to contact to provide medical help or attention if needed

Volunteer waivers are a safety precaution. Volunteers may still choose to file a lawsuit if they believe the animal shelter or rescue is responsible for an injury.  Waivers are part of your defense in court but should not be your only defense.  Work with your legal counsel to draft a waiver that best suits your animal shelter or rescue needs.

The Right Insurance

The best way to be proactive in protecting your animal shelter or rescue from financial loss as a result of a lawsuit is to purchase insurance.  There are many types of insurance you can purchase for your organization including:

  1. General Liability Insurance
  2. Professional Liability Insurance
  3. Accident & Health Insurance
  4. Director’s & Officer’s Insurance

Liability insurance protects your financial assets by paying defense and settlement costs of a covered lawsuit.   Take the time to research animal shelter insurance options today.  Purchasing insurance after a lawsuit is filed will not protect you.

Volunteer Training

Volunteer training is vital for new and existing volunteers.  Create a strong volunteer training program by answering these questions:

  1. What do you want the training to accomplish?
  2. What do your volunteers need to know?
  3. What do your volunteers already know?
  4. How do they learn best?

These answers will help you to create a valuable training program that is beneficial to both the volunteer and the organization.  Once training is completed, have your volunteers tell you what they learned and how they can implement this in their tasks.  Training is never complete and should be offered on a routine basis to volunteers.  The knowledge and education help make them valuable to your team.