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Welcome Aboard - Becoming a Volunteer

Volunteers make an extremely valuable contribution to our communities. Many registered charities and non-profit organizations would not be able to function without volunteer support. This pamphlet is intended to help volunteers understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

A volunteer is someone who provides free services or assistance. You can volunteer for:

  • An institution or group, such as a church, hospital, school or organization
  • An individual, such as a friend or neighbour (for example driving your neighbour’s children to school)

Why volunteer?

Volunteering is often a very rewarding experience. Volunteers are important members of the organizations they support and are often role models and leaders in their communities. Volunteering can provide an opportunity to develop new skills and experience which can be a significant asset on a résumé or application for schools or scholarships.

What do charitable organizations expect of a volunteer?

Organizations expect volunteers to be reliable and to complete assigned tasks. It is important that volunteers are realistic and clear about the time and services they are able to commit to the organization. Even though the work done by volunteers is unpaid, volunteers have a responsibility to follow the organization’s rules, such as respecting confidentiality or wearing a uniform.

Although it is not common, it is possible for volunteers to be responsible for damages if their actions cause personal injury, financial loss or property damage.

When is a volunteer liable for loss or injury?

Liability means a person is legally responsible for causing harm. This can include injury to a person, damage to property or financial loss. If volunteers take little or no care in doing their work and this causes some kind of harm, a court may find a volunteer responsible for the harm. A court may order the volunteer to pay damages. This means the volunteer will have to pay the person or organization for the injuries or loss. Fortunately, most volunteers can avoid liability by being informed about the organizations’ policies and taking reasonable care in their volunteer work.

Under the law, volunteers are expected to meet a reasonable standard of care. This means they must try to prevent likely injuries and harm and must do what the average, reasonable person would do in the same situation.


  • Be sure that the agency has policies in place to protect itself, children and/or vulnerable adults from risky situations.
  • Be sure that the organization screens all potential volunteers and employees. This may include security, reference or background checks.
  • Know the organization’s abuse prevention policies and make sure to abide by them.

Does the law ever expect a higher standard of care from a volunteer?

Yes. If a volunteer has special skills or knowledge they are expected to do or know more than the average ‘reasonable person’. If there is a question of liability, these volunteers will be judged against people with similar skills and knowledge.  Volunteers are expected to work to the best of their ability.

Volunteers who have special skills or knowledge must be especially careful when giving advice about their area of expertise. Someone who gives poor or wrong advice may be liable if someone relies on the information and is harmed by it. These volunteers must be clear when they are providing expertise and when they are offering general information that is not meant to be relied on.

Volunteers working with children must be very careful. Children must be well supervised in a safe environment. It is the volunteer’s responsibility to keep the children in their care safe. This higher standard of care also applies to vulnerable adults such as persons with disabilities.

Can an organization get insurance to cover volunteers?

Yes. Some insurance companies offer general insurance policies that cover volunteer activities. These policies can be for individual volunteers or for a group of volunteers. The cost of these policies and the activities they cover vary. An organization can purchase this insurance for their volunteers. It is possible for individual volunteers to buy their own insurance policy and some homeowners’ and tenants’ policies may cover volunteer activities. These policies could protect volunteers if they hurt themselves or damage their own property while volunteering. Volunteers should check their insurance policies to see if their volunteer activities are covered.


  • Before accepting a volunteer position, be sure that you understand what you will be expected to do.
  • Be realistic about the time and energy needed for volunteer work. Do not accept the position unless you can commit to the time that is needed.
  • Understand your volunteer responsibilities. Do only what you are allowed to do.

For more information about volunteering and legal information for charitable and non-profit organizations contact Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick.

Published by:

Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 6000
Fredericton, New Brunswick
E3B 5H1
Tel: (506) 453-5369
Fax: (506) 462-5193

ISBN: 978-1-55471-753-8



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Disclaimer: Please note that our website contains general information about the law. This is not a complete statement of the law on particular topics. We try to update our publications often, but laws change frequently so it is important for you to check to make sure the information is up to date.  The information in our publications is not a substitute for legal advice. To receive legal advice about your specific situation, you need to speak to a lawyer.