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Nonprofit Law/Oregon non profit organization, of 501c3, regarding whether or not volunteers are exempt from being sued individually or collectively as a board?


QUESTION: We are a non profit 501c3 organization, which has no paid employees.  We are All volunteers.  We do not own any property or vehicles.  We are incorporated.      We put on one fundraiser a year, in our community, in which we break even, if we are lucky.  We carry an insurance policy for the one community fundraiser, which we rent space from the City, in case anyone is injured during the fundraiser.    My question to you, is should we, as a volunteer board of directors, need to be protected by a D&O policy or more under these circumstances??   I cannot locate whether Oregon has an Absolute volunteer immunity....  Clause in this state.  I also cannot think of a reason that a member of the board would be sued other than  someone purposely looking for trouble.    We are a Down syndrome association.  We do not council, sell anything, provide medical attention, or train.   We do bring in people to train us in conditions, etc., which helps our members deal with difficulties with having a Down syndrome family member.   We do refer our members to appropriate agencies when needed. It is difficult to obtain volunteers for anything.        I am also trying to find out if we (the board) would be protected should two or more members or directors had a personal conflict, which they might attempt to involve the board or the association in any kind of lawsuit.      It seems very confusing to get a clear vision of liability in our situation.    I appreciate any help that you can be on this topic!

ANSWER: I can inform you that volunteers including unpaid Board members of
501(c)(3) organizations and some other nonprofits have extensive
protection under the Federal Volunteer Protection Act of 1997. That
Federal law 42 U.S.C. §14501 and some sections following that and
is available at

and the main section is 14503  which is available at in the the first
---Start of Excerpt--
(a) Liability protection for volunteers
Except as provided in subsections (b) and (d) of this section, no
volunteer of a nonprofit organization or governmental entity shall
be liable for harm caused by an act or omission of the volunteer on
behalf of the organization or entity if-
(1) the volunteer was acting within the scope of the volunteer's
responsibilities in the nonprofit organization or governmental
entity at the time of the act or omission;
(2) if appropriate or required, the volunteer was properly
licensed, certified, or authorized by the appropriate authorities
for the activities or practice in the State in which the harm
occurred, where the activities were or practice was undertaken
within the scope of the volunteer's responsibilities in the
nonprofit organization or governmental entity;
(3) the harm was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct,
gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant
indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by
the volunteer; and
(4) the harm was not caused by the volunteer operating a motor
vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other vehicle for which the State
requires the operator or the owner of the vehicle, craft, or vessel
(A) possess an operator's license; or
(B) maintain insurance.
---End of Excerpt--  

the main caveat is in the next paragraph
---Start of Excerpt--
(b) Concerning responsibility of volunteers to organizations and
entities. Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any
civil action brought by any nonprofit organization or any
governmental entity against any volunteer of such organization or
---End of Excerpt--

Harvey Mechanic
Attorney at Law

P.S. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I was looking specifically for Oregon law.     Thank you.

I have in my profile that this free forum is only for general questions about IRS federal exemption issues of 501(c)(3) organizations. But I will try to direct you. Some states do provide  protection for volunteers as a class, but I have not seen that Oregon has such a state law. See, "State Liability Laws for Charitable Organizations and Volunteers" from 2001 at on page 86 and that is confirmed on page 33 of

I don't understand why you would need an Oregon law, as the federal law covers your volunteers unless Oregon choose to opt out, which I do not see that they have done. At least as of 2008, New Hampshire was the only state to opt-out (page 13)

--- start of excerpt ---
to the extent that such laws are inconsistent with this Act, except
that this Act shall not preempt any State law that provides additional
protection from liability relating to volunteers or to any
category of volunteers in the performance of services for a nonprofit
organization or governmental entity.
Act shall not apply to any civil action in a State court against
a volunteer in which all parties are citizens of the State if such
State enacts a statute in accordance with State requirements for
enacting legislation—
(1) citing the authority of this subsection;
(2) declaring the election of such State that this Act shall
not apply, as of a date certain, to such civil action in the
State; and
(3) containing no other provisions.
--- end of excerpt --- (page 3)

At least in 2004 Oregon had not opted out.
--- start of excerpt ---
A federal court in Oregon ... found that the uncompensated
president of a nonprofit was entitled to immunity under the [Federal Volunteer Protection]Act.
See Nunez v. Duncan, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11037 (D.Or. 2004). The court ...determined that there were no facts that would remove the nonprofit's president from the protection of the Act.
---Start of Excerpt---

Harvey Mechanic
Attorney at Law

P.S. This response is intended to be a general statement of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.  

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Harvey Mechanic


DO NOT GIVE ME INFORMATION THAT YOU WANT KEPT CONFIDENTIAL. I am an attorney and I volunteer time to answer general questions about U.S. Federal income tax issues of nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charities only. Those questions could be about establishing and maintaining legal requirements for such non-profit organizations in the United States, including Internal Revenue service filings and requirements. I will not be working on this free forum to answer questions about Nonprofit's possible unrelated or for-profit businesses or how to fill out forms. This forum is only for general questions about federal tax law, not as the law applies to your specific situation. If you do not make your question public then I will not be spending much of my donated time on answers that would not benefit the public. If you have other questions, please contact me at I will reply from my email. In any case, do not reveal confidential information to me until after I have contracted with you to provide personal legal services. My responses on this forum are intended to be general statements of law, should not be relied upon as legal advice, and do not create an attorney/client relationship. For me to consider your individual situation and how the law applies, I would need to gather extensive information about the situation. To search my previous answers you can do a Google search by "" without the quotes and then add your search terms before hitting enter.


I have been practicing law and especially the law of nonprofit organizations since 1990 when I was admitted to the New York Bar and I have maintained my status with the Bar since that time.


B.S. Columbia University in New York City, 1970

J.D. (Law Degree) Brooklyn Law School, 1990 -- Cum Laude.

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