Volunteering – It Can End In Tears (but please still do it…the right way)
There is nothing nobler than giving up your time to assist a local club, association or body corporate committee. However, as any experienced volunteer can tell you, even a group of people who come together to donate their time for others will not always see eye to eye. Nor will the Committee Members elected always act appropriately. It is important to remember that if you accept a role as a member of a Committee there can be significant consequences for you personally if you breach your duties to the association or engage in other undesirable conduct, such as defamation.
The common perception that Committee roles on these committees are low risk is not completely correct. Generally speaking, yes - one of the benefits of incorporating your association is the protection of individual association members from personal liability for the debts of the club. Body Corporates are usually (but not always) insured. But if as an officer or committee member you abuse your powers, engage in defamation, fail to avoid or appropriately deal with conflicts of interest, fail to act in the best interest of the association or fail to exercise due care, skill and diligence you could personally incur fines or private law suits. In the most extreme instances even criminal convictions are possible.
Do not assume larger consequences cannot grow from small beginnings. A few years ago the New South Wales Supreme Court received a defamation proceeding relating to the EDO Nigerian Association of New South Wales Incorporated. In this case it escalated from arguments surrounding the association’s receipt of three goats for an end of year celebration. From three goats to the Supreme Court and tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) each in legal fees... Could it be that your own clubs contracts and disputes are not so insignificant after all?
Not only can you put yourself in hot water by acting recklessly as a President, Treasurer, Secretary or Committee Member but while acting on behalf of your beloved organisation you could leave the association liable for damages which render it insolvent and ultimately destroy it. You could also be responsible personally for the costs of any action which places your own assets at risk. So perhaps think twice before shooting off that email.
It is great to volunteer but you must stay proactively involved in the management of the association and try to keep above the fray of personal disputes while on the committee. Remember you are there to represent the organisation and not your own personal interest.