Turning Risks into Success

Turning Risks into Success

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Risk management long has its place in the Volunteer Programme Management framework. However, if we were to critically examine the importance we place on the various components of the framework, where would we find risk management in the rank of things? How would risk management rank among all the other components such as volunteer recruitment and volunteer retention?

Chances are that it might not be one of the “priority components”, partly due to the fact that volunteer management professionals are constantly hard pressed with the need to recruit, place and retain volunteers and also partly because we naturally do not like to think about what could go wrong in our volunteer programmes.

However, to the surprise of some Non-Profits Organizations (NPOs) in Singapore, the Workplace Safety & Health (WSH) Act makes it necessary for us to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our volunteers, as they offer their services to our organizations. In the Act, it has been explicitly mentioned that “any reference to an employee shall include a reference to a volunteer”. This is to say that we have the legal obligation to ensure a safe working environment, not just for employees, but for volunteers as well. But yet, in my interactions with volunteer management professionals, it seems that not many NPOs and professionals are aware of the extent of the coverage of the Act to also include volunteers.

And even if we were to take the legal obligations aside, there still remains with us the moral obligation of ensuring the safety of everyone who comes through our doors, no matter service users, staff, volunteers or visitors. It is our duty of care to do so. At the end of the day, proper risk management is also an indication of good governance, as we proactively take steps to enhance volunteer partnerships and protect our assets (people, programme and property). In addition, doing so will also help build public confidence and enhance our reputation as a trusted non-profit.

And so, for me, what was initially a “good-to-have” component of the Volunteer Programme Management Framework has now become a critical component that we need to carefully examine and fully appreciate, as we identify, prioritize and manage all the potential types of risks (beyond just physical risks) of our volunteer programmes.

Thinking even more broadly, a full appreciation of Risk Management should go beyond the conventional limited view of doing so to minimize risk and liability; it should also be seen as a necessary tool to prevent problems that can erode the credibility and effectiveness of our volunteer programmes, and thus paving the way for the successful fulfilment of our organisation’s mission, through an effective engagement of volunteers.

It should thus be seen as a practice tool which helps to “increase opportunities for success” in our mission, both of our volunteer programmes and of the organisation we are based in (Seel et al, 2010). It is not “an evil” which we should shun away from. Susan Ellis (2012) explains that “risk assessment leads to appropriate volunteer assignments, identification of the necessary qualifications to fill those roles, targeted recruitment for those skills, proper screening, solid orientation and training, and then monitoring”. It is thus a tool for success.

But what exactly is a risk? In working with various volunteer programmes over the last few years, I have found that practitioners have always find it difficult to articulate risks. While it is not second nature for us to think about risk, here is a working definition of risk from BusinessDictionary:

“A probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided through preemptive action.”

And as we process through the various risks our programmes may have, it might be good to review it using the 3Cs Risk Identification questions we developed and use, here in Emmaus Strategies:

  • Circumstances – The specific circumstances surrounding the risk which renders it a risk
  • Consequences – The negative impact of the risk
  • Causalities – The groups of people who would be negatively affected by the risk.

Here are some questions to help you access how ready you and your volunteer programme are in risk management:

  • How important is risk management for our volunteer programme?
  • How do we gear our organisation and volunteer programme toward success through risk management?
  • How do we go about minimizing risks?
  • What do we need to be doing differently in our work processes?
  • What policies/work processes need updating?

We have identified that risks occur in 7 key areas of the volunteer programme. Should you be keen, you can download the Risk Identification Worksheet below to kickstart your risk management process.

Have a need to identify, prioritize and manage risks in your volunteer programmes? Emmaus Strategies can help non-profits organize risk management exercises for their volunteer programmes. Contact us for more information.

Download Risk Identification Worksheet


Government of Singapore. (2006, March 1). Workplace Safety and Health Act (Chapter 354A). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/WSHA2006

What is risk? Definition and meaning. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/risk.html

Seel, K. E., & , (2010). Volunteer administration, professional practice. Canada: LexisNexis Canada Inc.

Ellis, S. J. (2012). Common Sense and Volunteer Involvement. Energize, Inc. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from http://www.energizeinc.com/hot/2012/12apr.php


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Turning Risks into Success

by James Lim
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