Liability Issues for Mentoring Programs
“What Kind of Insurance Do We Need for Our Mentoring Program?”
Congratulations on beginning or expanding your mentoring program for youth. Mentoring can be a
rewarding and enriching experience for a youth and his or her mentor. As a program coordinator or
administrator you want to help make the experience successful and anchor your program as a valuable
community asset. Liability isn’t the first or most enjoyable component to consider when planning your
mentoring program, but a firm foundation will enable staff and volunteers to focus their energies where
they are needed most – with the youth.
These guidelines and any attachments are provided for information purposes only and should not be taken
as legal advice. Discuss them and any other specific concerns with your county’s legal counsel or your
non-profit corporation counsel.
Liability and Risk Management
The first step in reducing the likelihood that your nonprofit will be liable for harm is to take some time to
imagine the kinds of harm or unintended results that could occur in the course of delivering services to
your client population. The second step is identifying practical steps you can take to reduce the likelihood
of harm or surprise. Some of the risks that mentoring programs are often concerned about include:
the risk that a volunteer will hurt , instead of help a mentee;
the risk that a volunteer will suffer an injury while working with a mentee;
the risk that a volunteer will do something that is prohibited by your organization and results in
physical harm or damage to your reputation;
the risk that your nonprofit will be sued by an employee who alleges wrongful termination.
One of the keys to a nonprofit risk management effort is to create written policies and procedures prior to
Train on and provide written policies regarding:
volunteer duties and responsibilities
program staff responsibilities
Other do’s and don’ts for volunteers (confidentiality, touching policy, overnight visits, discipline,
alcohol, drugs and tobacco usage, etc.).
As an organization you should document your volunteer recruitment, screening, training, monitoring and
Conduct criminal history records check for positions that pose a high risk of harm (e.g. mentors who
will work one-on-one) and where possible child abuse history background checks even for people you
Ask for and check references. Write down reference responses to your questions and keep them on
Check driving records and ask for evidence of car insurance. Provide explicit instructions about who
can drive and under what circumstances.
Always conduct face-to-face interviews with potential mentors.
Conduct periodic events in which you observe the mentor and mentee together especially at the
beginning of a match.
Require that a volunteer provide periodic written reports of hours spent with mentee, activities,
progress, etc. Respond in a timely manner to any concerns raised or perceived.
Officially end the mentoring relationship at the conclusion of the assigned period with an exit
interview and termination form. If a mentor wishes to continue the relationship with the mentee, you
might consider including recommendations in the termination form.
As an organization, you also want to have written policies and procedures regarding investigation, fact
finding, report writing, appropriate actions, and involvement of medical and law enforcement personnel in
the event of an allegation of wrong-doing against the organization or the volunteer.
As an organization, you will want to let your volunteers know what insurance coverage you provide for
them or what is not available to them, and have the right kinds of insurance to protect your organization
Coverage Specifically for Volunteers:
Personal Auto Insurance: All volunteers should have auto insurance that covers passengers in their
cars. The state minimum is 25, 50, and 10 ($25,000 bodily injury/person, $50,000 bodily
injury/accident, and $10,000 property damage/accident).
While $100,000 bodily injury/person and $300,000 bodily injury/accident is increasingly
common, volunteers need to evaluate risk relative to their personal assets and discuss coverage
needs with their insurance agent.
Additionally in April 1998, Wisconsin ACT 89 amended the wrongful death statute 89.04 (4). In
the event of death resulting from negligent use of a vehicle, the limits of liability for economic
loss were not affected, but a cap on “the loss of society or companionship” was raised to
$300,000 per adult and $500,000 per minor. In effect, if a minor is killed in an auto accident in
which the driver is found negligent and negligence caused the accident, he/she may be sued for
up to $500,000 in addition to any economic loss claims.*
Ask volunteers to sign an agreement that says they will adhere to the Mentoring Program policies
regarding transporting youth and that they will not transport youth unless they have liability
insurance at the time of transport.
As a program manager, you will want to periodically check that volunteers’ insurance is current.
*Verbal communication, Bernard McCartan, Legal Counsel, American Family Insurance
Homeowners’ Insurance: Volunteers, who are homeowners, may want to check with their insurance
agent to see if their homeowners insurance covers them for liability claims arising from their
volunteer activity. Most policies will not provide this coverage automatically, but it is often available
as an inexpensive policy endorsement. Some people purchase a personal umbrella policy which
covers over and above what the average coverage is on their underlying home, car, boat, snowmobile,
Volunteer Liability Insurance: Volunteers may purchase on their own, or a nonprofit may purchase on
its volunteers behalf, volunteer liability insurance (sometimes called “Personal Liability Insurance”).
This insurance provides protection for the volunteer in the event he or she is sued for an incident
involving property damage or bodily injury arising out of the performance of the volunteer’s duties.
The coverage is excess over any other insurance the volunteer has that would apply. Keep in mind,
These policies may exclude common claims, such as a claim involving the use of an automobile,
or the delivery of a professional service (such as medical assistance). These types of claims are
more appropriated covered under auto and professional liability policies, respectively.
A personal liability or volunteer liability policy is intended to protect the individual volunteer –
not the nonprofit program sponsor – in the event of a claim against the volunteer. See the section
below for information on protecting your organization.
Coverage for Nonprofit Mentoring Programs:
Every nonprofit should evaluate its exposures and financial resources and then determine what risk
financing strategies are appropriate. Insurance is a popular and often affordable risk financing strategy.
There are several common liability coverages purchased by nonprofit organizations, including mentoring
programs. These are:
Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance: The most common policy is the commercial general
liability policy that protects an organization against claims alleging bodily injury (the organization
causes someone to be hurt), property damage (your organization damages the property of another, not
its own property), personal injury (offences for libel, slander, defamation, malicious prosecution, etc),
and advertising injury (libel, slander, copyright infringement due to advertising activities). Your
CGL policy may also include Medical Expense coverage with a low limit (usually $5,000 or $10,000
per person) for “no-fault” bodily injury where the nonprofit is not negligent regarding the injury but
wants to cover the person's medical expenses up to the policy limit.
Business auto insurance: Another policy to consider is a business auto policy. If your nonprofit owns
any vehicles, you need a business auto policy to cover the vehicles for auto liability and physical
damage. If the nonprofit does not own any vehicles then you want to purchase Hired and Nonowned
Auto Liability coverage. Often you can purchase this coverage under the general liability policy if
the chapter does not own any vehicles. This coverage protects the organization (NOT the driver or
vehicle owner), when the person (mentor) is acting on behalf of the organization and has an auto
accident. So if a mentor is driving her own car on behalf of the mentoring program (such as going to
the bank, attending a special event, etc.) and has an accident her personal auto insurance will pay for
the claim first. If the volunteer's personal insurance is inadequate to cover the amount of the loss
(such as the volunteer does not have auto insurance or has very low policy limits or causes a
catastrophic loss), the Nonowned Auto policy would protect the nonprofit for its extent of the loss.
Without this coverage, if such a claim occurs, the nonprofit would not have any insurance protection.
Directors’ and Officers’ Liability – Another liability policy to consider is a Nonprofit Directors &
Officers Liability (D&O) policy. This policy protects the organization, its directors, officers,
employees and volunteers for their "wrongful acts" in governing and managing the organization. The
actual people insured depends on which policy the organization purchases. "Wrongful acts" are
allegations of breach of duty, errors and omissions, and other acts that cause harm to the organization
or its members. The D&O policy does not cover loss for bodily injury or property damage – that is
covered under the general liability policy. Most D&O policies sold to nonprofit organizations include
Employment Practices Liability insurance (EPLI), which protects the organization against claims
alleging wrongful employment practices. Given the frequency of these claims, EPLI coverage is a
must for most nonprofits that employ paid staff.
If you’re nonprofit publishes a newsletter, marketing materials etc. you should consider a D&O
policy that includes Publishers’ Liability and Personal Injury. This provides broader coverage for
libel, defamation, copyright or trademark infringement than the general liability policy.
The main argument for the D&O policy is that even with state volunteer protection laws, a board
member can be held personally liable for his or her mismanagement of the organization. As for
limits, the base limit should be $1 million. If the policy includes the cost of defense within the policy
limit, you might want to consider a $2 million or higher policy limit.
Two important points for mentoring programs:
Your D&O policy should clearly be tailored for a nonprofit organization.
Unless you have resources to defend a claim, your D&O policy should have a “duty to defend”
clause, which obligates the insurance company to pick up the cost of legal action from the very
beginning of a claim rather than reimburse the organization afterward.
Where to find additional information
Nonprofit Risk Management Center
1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
202-785-3891 FAX: (202) 296-0349
The Center provides free technical assistance by telephone and email, as well as affordable publications,
training and consulting services. Free factsheets, booklets and tutorials are featured on the Center’s web
Liability in school-based mentoring programs
Source: Student Mentoring, Northwest Regional Education Laboratory’s Information Services, September
1998 page 13.
“Liability – Having students and mentors meet on school grounds under the supervision of program staff
is the easiest way to limit liability. However, this also limits the privacy and the range of activities
available to mentors and mentees (Crockett & Smink, 1991). If students and mentors will be meeting off-
site, carefully work out insurance and liability issues with administrators, lawyers, and the district
insurance agency (Glasgow, 1996). Ensure that the school, program staff, students, and mentors will be
covered in case of accidents, incidents and accusations of abuse, and other emergency situations.
Depending on your school’s insurance policy, you may be able to address liability issues through
informed consent - discuss transportation and other risks with parents and then ask them to sign a consent
form agreeing to allow their child to participate (Crockett & Smirk, 1991). Many school districts already
have coverage for similar off-site activities built into their insurance policies (athletic and work
experience programs, for example) – you may be able to use these as models for extending insurance
coverage to mentor/mentee meetings (Glasgow, 1996).
Source: Mentor Program Handbook, Hammond, Shirley D. M.ED.,Wisconsin Clearinghouse for
Prevention Resources, 1999 ed., page 14
“Insurance and liability issues are concerns for schools everywhere, and many people have asked how to
handle such issues regarding the establishment of a mentor program. While each school must make their
own decisions regarding insurance/liability issues, the Madison, Wisconsin schools utilize three of the
above-mention forms – the Parent/Guardian Permission Slip, the Interest Form for Mentors, and the
Volunteer Disclosure Form – to cover any issues that might arise.”