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DebraW
05-05-2007, 10:00 AM
Volunteer groups learn insurance a necessary burden
Workshops offered by industry outline needs

Mike Sadava, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Saturday, May 05, 2007

It's hard to imagine our society running without volunteers.

There are 19,000 non-profit organizations in Alberta, with volunteers doing everything from running our summer festivals to helping out in recreation programs at seniors' homes. In many cases functions that used to be done by the government are done by volunteers, including essential things like children's services.

It's also part of today's reality that society doesn't run without insurance, and the voluntary sector is no exception.

Before your eyes glaze over because of the word insurance, just imagine this scenario.

Your community league has organized a bee to build a playground. One of the league members falls or mishandles a power tool and injures herself.

If the league is not properly insured, it can be sued, and the directors and officers could be forced to bear the financial burden.

Voluntary organizations across the province are struggling with the insurance question, discovering that they might have the wrong type of coverage and that insurance is going to be even more expensive than it has been.

Val Mayes, executive director of the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, says some directors of groups operate with the mistaken belief that what they're doing is not risky enough to warrant even buying insurance.

"In the good old days you would just do it ... but now you know that if you're doing a fundraiser and renting a community hall, these people need to have proof of insurance," Mayes says.

Being properly insured is part of the risk-management strategy of an organization, just like requiring two signatures on cheques, auditing books and backing up data, she says.

A major education process is under way.

The insurance industry and the voluntary sector have been holding meetings all over the province, with hundreds of groups attending workshops on insurance.

And a "tool kit" available at www.volunteeralberta.ab.ca lays out many of the possible insurance needs that any voluntary organization should think about.

For instance, you might require "abuse coverage" if your organization deals with children or the elderly. You might have to think about whether your coverage should be on a claims-made or occurrence basis. The former covers you only from the time you get your policy, but coverage on an occurrence basis can cover you for a wrongdoing that occurred in the past.

Jim Rivait, Alberta vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says that in some cases the seminars led to organizations paying more for insurance because their coverage hadn't been proper.

"Often in voluntary groups, people have day jobs, do it in their spare time and probably don't pay attention to insurance as they would in their normal job," Rivait says.

Rivait acknowledges that the insurance industry has a lot to learn about the needs of voluntary groups, and how they operate.

There have been periods when some organizations found it difficult to get insurance.

Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, says there was a "hard" insurance market after 9/11, when insurance companies felt the risk factor was very high and limited coverage was available.

An insurer dropped 10 women's shelters, and they were left scrambling to find insurance, Reimer says. And with property values going up in the booming economy, replacement cost for fire insurance is rising and becoming a major expense, she says.

The Insurance Bureau has been funding the seminars, and covering the insurance costs of Operation Red Nose, which would have to pay at least a $30,000 premium to cover volunteers who drive the cars of partiers in Edmonton and Lethbridge during the Christmas season.

It's an important service and worth it for the insurance industry to pay for because taking those who've had a few from behind the wheel no doubt prevents crashes.

But many other organizations face high insurance bills without this kind of support.

Voluntary groups would love to see themselves in their own separate sector for insurance purposes rather than being treated like a business.

That's not likely to happen, Rivait says.

"We'll have volunteer insurance if you have a volunteer-sector court," he says. "The courts don't distinguish between the volunteer sector and business insurance -- there's still the same wrong that has occurred."

But a voluntary organization is not a business, and its funds would be better spent on the services it provides to people

Rivait has a good point when he says the province, which has downloaded a lot of its functions on the volunteer sector, should consider protecting voluntary organizations from the vagaries of the insurance market.

The Edmonton Journal 2007

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Andrea Schuld-Ergil
17-05-2007, 11:08 PM
It's true - I have attended many of these workshops myself in the role of host over the last year, and workshop participants have been so glad to get the info, even if it sometimes can raise one's blood-pressure a bit...

Much better to be educated about risks of various activities than to walk into situations simply hoping that everything will be 100% smooth.

To see dates/ times/ locations of the free workshops, and to download some great tools (e.g. the Toolkit mentioned above), check out the Volunteer Alberta website: http://www.volunteeralberta.ab.ca/resources_and_links/insurance_toolkit.asp