The main areas of risk for not-for-profit organisations

Every not-for-profit organisation faces a certain amount of risk, whether it's ensuring the health and wellbeing of its volunteers or protecting its property or premises. Risks come in all shapes and sizes but it's useful to group them under topic headings so that they can be assessed and prioritised.

While there are many differing risks the focus of this help sheet is to look at those that could end in some form of civil or criminal court action.

Don't start and stop with this help sheet. You need to take a broad view in identifying and compiling a list of hazards. Some of the ways you can identify risks include:

  • Undertaking a brainstorming session with all key stakeholders
  • Asking for reports, ideas and suggestions from staff, volunteers and clients, members, etc.
  • Conducting your own inspections
  • Asking your insurer or broker for assistance
  • Examining injury or first aid paperwork
  • Checking with your equipment suppliers

You can also keep on top of identifying workplace hazards - which are, remember, only part of the risk picture - by regularly checking for updates, bulletins or examples of risk issues from:

  • your industry or peak association
  • relevant unions
  • your workers' compensation insurance agent
  • state/territory workplace safety organisations which can offer manuals and checklists
  • other organisations working in the same field.

You will need to constantly check to see that you comply with ALL relevant legislation, guidelines and regulations - whether they are federal, state or local government.

Below is a list of risks that may affect many not-for-profit organisations. As we said, this list isn't intended to be exhaustive - there are an infinite number of risks involved with each different sector and individual organisation - but these are the areas where the largest number of groups have had trouble in the past.

If you go over the list carefully it should prompt you to think of at least some potential risks involving your own organisation that need to be addressed.

Physical risks

It's your responsibility to make your organisation into a safe environment for anybody (staff, volunteers, members, players, supporters, clients, patients, contractors, visitors) who's likely to come into contact with it (and that doesn't mean just people who have permission to enter).

A key point here is to make sure that you inspect your facilities, equipment and premises regularly.


If your organisation works with animals,

  • Can they get out?
  • Can anybody get in?
  • Are they going to be ridden/patted/picked up as part of the show?
  • Can they do damage? Can they bite, claw, trample, poison, charge, scare, trip, or infect anybody?
  • Can they be harmed themselves?
  • Are any of the participants going to be doing remotely dangerous (acrobatics, bungy-jumping, crowdsurfing, diving, exorcism, fireworks, gliding, horseriding, javelin tossing, linedancing, parachuting, rugby, swimming, trampolining, wrestling, etc.) activities that might expose them (or other people) to risk?
  • Is crowd/traffic controls necessary? If so, have local authorities and permits been obtained?
  • Do you have emergency procedures in place - fire, violence, accidents etc?
  • Do you need to involve emergency service or other authorities?
  • Is any special equipment/material required? Has this been inspected? Does it meet the relevant standards/regulations?
  • Can anything catch fire? Are your alarms in place? Do you have sprinklers and extinguishers in place? How regularly are they checked?
  • Do you have an emergency plan? Who is aware of it? Have you practised it? Who is in charge of overseeing and reviewing it?
  • If the fire spreads, are your evacuation systems in place?
  • If the venue burns down, do you have arrangements for continuity of services?
Food and drink
  • Is your food production, storage, and service safe from contamination or deterioration?
  • Are your food areas clean?
  • Do you meet the regulatory requirements for food handlers set out by local and state governments? Are all food handlers aware of the regulations?
  • Do you label your food sufficiently for people with severe allergies to be able to avoid injury?
  • Do you serve alcohol? Do you have policies to deal with instances of intoxication?
  • If you handle medicines - do you have appropriate records and authorities? Are you trained for their administration?
  • Is your machinery safe? Are all your machines regularly tested?
  • Are your work safety procedures adequate?
  • Is everyone aware of your work safety procedures?
  • Is everyone who uses them properly trained or licensed?
  • Is the public able to gain access to your machines?
  • Are they registered with the appropriate authorities?
  • Do you keep maintenance records?
  • Are your cars properly maintained and serviced?
  • Are your adequately trained and licensed?
  • Are your vehicles properly registered for the tasks that are undertaken?
  • Is access restricted?
  • Do you have limits on how long or how far someone can drive in the one shift/day/week etc?

(See also Environmental Risks, below).

Professional risks

It's your responsibility to see that nobody suffers through relying on your work.

  • Do you screen your staff (including your volunteers) to ensure that they're professionally competent, law-abiding, and safe?
  • Do you screen staff working with vulnerable groups such as children or those with special care?
  • Do you have an orientation process for your staff outlining acceptable and unacceptable behaviour?
  • Do your staff (including your volunteers) provide people with goods, or services, or advice?
  • Are you sure that your systems can ensure that the goods, or the services, or the advice are reliable and/or accurate?
  • Are your volunteers adequately supervised?
  • Are your staff likely to have occasion to defame anybody?
  • Is your complaints procedure adequate to detect problems?

Environmental Risks

It's your responsibility to see that your operations are safe under all foreseeable circumstances. As Worksafe puts it, what you would warn a child about if they visited you?

  • Can any of your buildings catch fire, fall down, or suffer any other disaster?
  • Are your paths, stairs, steps, and public areas non-slippery, free of obstacles, well signposted? How about for people with vision impairment?
  • Are there any personal hazards on the premises, either yours (loose goalposts, unstable vending machines, etc.) or brought in by others (syringes, broken glass, etc.)?
  • Is anybody smoking on or too close to the premises? Is your air-conditioning tested for diseases such as Legionnaires Disease?
  • Is there any standing water on the premises? Could anybody fall in and drown?
  • Are there any unshielded drops or falls?
  • Are there any potentially hazardous objects or substances, from golf balls to pesticides, left on the premises?
  • Do you have any trees? Could they fall down on houses/shed branches on people/undermine neighbouring buildings? Are they regularly pruned or inspected?
  • Do your surfaces meet required standards? Is there a danger of slipping or tripping due to surfaces not being properly maintained (sports grounds, dance floors, stages etc.)?
  • Are any dangerous substances (acid, blood, boiling water, etc.) kept on the premises? Are they locked away? Are there sufficient warning signs? Barriers?
  • Is there a designated first aid area? Is there emergency vehicle access? Are there warning signs? Are there safety barriers? Is there paid security? Are there security cameras?

Employee risks

You are responsible for protecting your staff and volunteers.

  • Are your clients (or anybody else) liable to attack, infect, or insult your staff or volunteers?
  • Do you have procedures in place to ensure sudden staff/volunteer absences or departures don't adversely affect your organisation?
  • Have you taken precautions against prejudice and harassment at work? Have you set procedures so that everyone is treated equally and fairly?
  • Do you have a system in place where you could identify potential problems? Is there a system to deal with complaints/disputes with staff/volunteers?
  • If anybody leaves, are you liable to an action for unfair dismissal?

Some laws regulate how you deal with workplace safety - check with the relevant agency (Google "workcover" or "workplace standards") in your state.

Financial risks

You are responsible for protecting the assets of your organisation and for paying your liabilities.

  • Are your financial procedures sufficient to prevent or expose fraud or unauthorised trading?
  • Have you set up limits on spending? Are these known and acknowledged?
  • If you were forced to close, have you adequately budgeted for paying all employee entitlements/all outstanding taxes?
  • Would your budget reporting systems be good enough to tell you if you were trading while insolvent?
  • Does your board have adequate information to make informed decisions (properly prepared balance sheets, profit and loss statements, cash flow reports, etc.)?
  • Have you set up a process of audit?


You are responsible for protecting the organisation and other people against crimes as well as accidents.

  • Are you protected against theft (from your organisation or from others on your property or under your control)?
  • Do you have adequate fences, alarms, surveillance, and security?
  • Have you procedures in place to ensure the safety of staff/volunteers/public etc?
  • Is there proper lighting and is there a program for regular replacement?
  • Do you have fraud prevention policies and procedures in place?


You are responsible for working within the law.

  • Is anybody on your staff driving an unregistered vehicle? Have you paid any compulsory insurance?
  • Are any of your board decisions liable to be overturned because of conflict of interest?
  • Are all your organisation's activities within your objectives under your constitution, or are you acting ultra vires (outside your authority)?
  • Have you filed all returns and reports required by legislation or funding agreements?

In all of these areas you should review your procedures to see whether you have done everything reasonable to avert any foreseeable problem.