5 Specific Risks To Special Events

Almost all nonprofits have special events. They raise awareness about vital causes and raise funds to cover some of the costs of service delivery. They can be as simple as a small open house or as large as a major sporting event.

Making the decision to have an event involves certain risk. Not planning ahead can have a huge impact on your reputation and financial stability. While there’s no way to know exactly what might come up, you need to consider the “what if” possibilities and identify what measures you will take to mitigate risk.

Determining your risk management objectives in the planning stages will help guide the process of planning and managing the event. Specific risk management goals include:

* Prevention of injury;

* Operating legally and in compliance with agreements;

* Meeting financial goals;

* Avoiding event cancellation; and,

* Fulfilling social responsibilities related to your mission.

People are one of the keys for a successful special event and organizing a special event management team is important. You want a simple and responsive model. For example: Special Event Director, Operations Coordinator, Safety Coordinator, Logistics Coordinator and Finance Coordinator.

One or two people can manage the functions of these five positions for smaller events and activities. Larger events would require assigning a primary function to individual leaders of the team. You might need to add additional people to the team as the event grows in complexity and size. The following are a few key areas of risk your committee should carefully consider when planning.

* Review local and state laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol if it will be available at the event. You might need a special license or permit to serve alcohol during your event. Confirm with the venue that serving alcohol is permitted and ask about additional requirements that could be necessary (i.e., licensed bartender, someone checking identification, limiting the time liquor can be served, etc.).

Develop controls to ensure under age and intoxicated guests aren’t served. And, always serve food. The alcohol will impact them harder and faster if your guests are drinking on an empty stomach. Set a “Last Call” an hour before the event ends to lessen the likelihood of an intoxicated guest getting into a vehicle. Serve more food and non-alcoholic drinks towards the end of your event. Also consider if serving alcohol is appropriate based on the type of event and age range of people attending.

* Most special events involve a vendor or two. Be sure you have contracts and agreements that clearly state the requirements and include hold harmless language, waivers of subrogation and insurance requirements. Be careful to protect your nonprofit by not unwittingly accepting more risk than is appropriate. Your attorney and/or insurance professional should review all documents.

Obtain a certificate of insurance from your outside vendors and entertainers. Your nonprofit should be named as an “additional insured” on the policies of vendors and co-sponsors. You don’t want to be held financially responsible for any damages they might cause.

* Having a large event? How will traffic and parking control be handled? If you use your own employees or volunteers, be sure they are properly trained and have proper equipment such as flashlights, reflective vests and radios. Check for any slip and fall hazards if you use a nontraditional parking area, such as a grass field. Consider safety and traffic flow of the parked cars. The auto insurance carried by your nonprofit will likely not cover damage to vehicles that are not owned or operated by your agency. Advise people that they park at their “own risk.”

* You should also have an incident management team (IMT) for large events. The team should include a person trained in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at a minimum. Some events could require a full medical staff. Include protocols for when to contact 911 or local emergency responders. Record every incident or injury with a written report for future reference and follow up even if seems minor.

* Establish a staff/volunteer to attendee ratio based on the type of event. It’s also a good idea to have alternate or extra volunteers to cover for people who signed up to help but don’t show up for the event.

* Events involving participants, such as an athletic event or walk-a-thon, require a participant waiver. To protect your organization in the event of an injury, each participant needs to submit a signed form. A parent/guardian signature is required for any minor participants.

Remember, something will go wrong. It might be minor; it might be major. Having a thoughtful plan in place is critical. It’s not necessarily the crisis, but how an organization responds that people will remember. Managing special event risk requires a balance of awareness, planning, diligence and teamwork. The time invested on risk management is well spent and certain to contribute to a successful event.


Dan Luttrell is the director of loss control for the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group in Santa Cruz, Calif. His email is [email protected]