Using Waivers to Protect Your Nonprofit: 4 Strategies

Protect your nonprofit with effective waiver strategies.

August 16, 2022

As a nonprofit professional, you’re well aware of the many legal matters your organization has to be on top of to continue operating without interruption. These legal considerations range from federal and state registration requirements to agreements between your nonprofit and your volunteers. To protect your nonprofit, neither big nor small legal matters should be overlooked.

Waivers are an essential part of the nonprofit world, but discussions about when and how to use them can be rare. Waivers are a particularly important element of event planning for nonprofit organizations, so whether you’re hosting an outdoor adventure event or require your volunteers to lift something heavy or work with animals, you likely need a waiver for your nonprofit to avoid potential liabilities.

This article will explore four strategies to help your nonprofit understand how to create secure, useful waivers that protect your organization:

  1. Make waivers convenient.
  2. Be specific.
  3. Obtain any essential information.
  4. Keep track of your records.

While considering what to include in your waivers, take into account how you’ll distribute and store your waivers, as well. Whether you choose to use digital waivers, traditional paper waivers, or a mix of the two, your system should be scalable and organized, allowing your nonprofit to continue easily maintaining its waivers far into the future.

1. Make waivers convenient.

Signing a waiver should be fast and easy so your guests, volunteers, and other participants can sign it quickly and jump into your nonprofit’s event. Ensure that your waivers are convenient to fill out and view at any time so your participants can refresh themselves on the details if needs be.

You can make your waivers easy to access and complete by doing the following:

  • Use a digital waiver solution. Digital waivers are more convenient than paper waivers for both your participants and your nonprofit. For example, without an online option, if your event has 100 guests, you’ll end up with 100 pieces of paper you’ll need to distribute, collect and review, and store. By contrast, a paperless solution is more efficient both when waivers are initially signed and when they’re stored.
  • Allow participants to sign ahead of time. While your event might have some walk-ins, your waivers should be available to sign at the time of registration. This will allow them to review your waivers thoroughly before signing.
  • Send copies of waivers to participants. Ensure that both your participants and your nonprofit have access to a copy of your waiver. Then, in the event that a participant needs to refer back to their waiver, they’ll be able to access it without issue.
  • Make waivers phone or tablet accessible. Your volunteers and event guests lead busy lives, and many of them will likely try to fill out their waiver while on the go. Ensure that your waivers format to both phone and tablet screens for these participants.

Additionally, while many organizations use paper waivers for walk-in guests at their events, you can stay paperless with kiosks. Touchless solutions are also a convenient option to speed up the signing process while keeping your guests safe.

2. Be specific.

Waivers are an agreement between your nonprofit and your volunteers or participants. Of course, in order to agree to anything, you need to specify what exactly you’re agreeing on.

Waivers with specific details about what they do and do not cover can not only protect nonprofits from potential liability issues, but they also inform participants about what exactly they will be doing. For example, volunteer waivers with specific details ensure that all risks are properly communicated, allowing them to provide informed consent.

You can make your volunteer waivers more specific by:

  • Listing dates of service. Waivers are not blanket agreements that exist in perpetuity. Be sure to list the dates your volunteers will be working, so they can accurately agree to waive your nonprofit’s liability in the event a risk occurs for those specific days.
  • Explaining what each volunteer will be doing. If you’re recruiting volunteers for a variety of roles, ensure you draft unique waivers that fit their responsibilities. For example, a volunteer who climbs a few ladders to help set up the decorations at a walk-a-thon would need to waive different risks than volunteers staffing your first-aid tent.
  • Describing potential risks. While a vague waiver might theoretically cover more than a specific one, waivers that fail to describe potential risks accurately prevent your volunteers from providing informed consent. Listing and explaining potential risks allows your volunteers to weigh each risk and decide whether or not to sign, which can save them and your nonprofit from potential injuries and liabilities.

When creating your waivers, consider using waivers designed for your specific type of service or event. For example, Smartwaiver offers unique sports liability waivers which could be beneficial for nonprofits running sports-related events, while a nonprofit that’s more concerned with risks related to animals might design a waiver that’s more relevant to their specific work.

3. Obtain any essential information.

The more you know about your supporters, the better your nonprofit can connect with them. Your waivers are tools for learning more about your supporters, allowing you to fill out their demographic information in your donor database, cater to their specific needs, and further understand who your audience is.

Some details can be collected directly from your waivers, and the waiver itself can be added to your database for reference. You can use your waivers to gather information such as your participants’:

  • Age. Basic demographic information such as your participants' ages can help you determine not only who your supporters are, but which activities attract specific demographics. For example, you might find that your average volunteer age skews towards college-aged individuals, which can help inform your next volunteer program marketing campaign.
  • Medical concerns. Medical concerns can include conditions that may make certain work more difficult, such as a bad knee, or even potentially life-saving information, such as if one of your volunteers is allergic to bees and will need to carry their epipen with them at all times.
  • Employment. If you know your supporters’ employers, you can help them contribute even more to your cause. As Double the Donation’s guide to corporate giving programs explains, supporters who work for businesses with a matching gift or volunteer grant program can contribute more to your nonprofit by filling out a few additional forms for their employer, thereby bringing in more donations for your cause without reaching into their own wallets.
  • Volunteer history. Volunteer history will usually refer to how long an individual has worked with your nonprofit, but it can also include their work with other organizations and programs. Once this information is collected, be sure to include it in your volunteer management system.

For most nonprofits hoping to collect information through their waivers, electronic waivers are a better choice than paper waivers. In addition to reducing time spent on dataentry, an electronic waiver solution with identity verification can be a valuable safety tool in case of an emergency. For example, if you need to look up a volunteers’ medical information quickly, it’s much easier to type their name into a searchable database than shuffle through a stack of papers.

4. Keep track of your records.

After your participants and volunteers fill out your waivers, they’ll turn them into your nonprofit to store and maintain. Keeping your waivers organized will ensure your staff is able to pull waivers quickly when needed and keep track of when they expire.

This process is far easier with an online waiver solution, which eliminates clunky filing cabinets by integrating with your CRM or donor database. Additionally, as nonprofits accumulate more waivers, traditional paper systems can become unsustainable. For example, if a medium-sized nonprofit hosts four events that require waivers with 200 guests each, they’ll need to manage at least 800 waivers, which is excessive for even the most robust filing systems.

Plus, digitizing waivers can ultimately streamline your budgeting process by eliminating fluctuating printing costs and avoiding any logistics associated with pen-and-paper waivers. For instance, if an event ends up having more walk-ins than expected, you may need to put a hold on checking in guests to print more waivers, which increases lines.

Waivers are a routine but important part of your nonprofit’s events and initiatives. With a convenient, specific waiver, your guests and volunteers can easily understand any potential risks associated with participating in upcoming activities and make an educated decision about their involvement. This ensures your supporters can provide informed consent, while also protecting your nonprofit from liability.

About the Author

Daryl McCarl is the Director of Business Development at Smartwaiver, the leading digital waiver service trusted by thousands of organizations around the world.

This collaboration was arranged through a listing on Nexus Marketing’s HAPO (Help a Partner Out) page. HAPO is a free service that connects members of the social good sector for cross-marketing and educational opportunities, such as webinars, podcasts, and conferences. For more information on HAPO or Nexus Marketing’s other offerings check out their website,


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