Expert view: Don't get your fingers burned by events

There is a smell of burning flesh in the air as the amateur firewalker at a charity fete leaps from the red-hot coals with a yelp of pain.

Crashing headlong into a horrified group of bystanders, he manages to eject a toddler from its buggy before landing in a heap among the crowd.

A moment of stunned silence is broken by the toddler's screams. Even the brave firewalker, nursing a sprained leg and scorched feet, adds his own howl to the general cacophony. An onlooker faints on seeing the scorched feet.

With no first-aid experts in attendance, the crowd is frantically trying to locate an official to help out, but there is none around. The chair of the trustees arriving breathless at the scene is at a loss, but she already suspects that the charity will somehow become financially involved in this. The spectacular finale to the charity's summer fundraiser looks set to end in accusations and litigation.

An unlikely scenario of course, but such calamities can be avoided with some clear thought and planning before any event takes place. Managing risk is normally the last thing on the minds of an enthusiastic fundraising team, but a little thought and planning can prevent an expensive catastrophe.

Extreme fundraising events, such as firewalking or parachuting, present different challenges. In such circumstances, charities would be advised to subcontract events to specialist companies. A quick search of the internet will reveal a number of potential suppliers and they should satisfy themselves as to the credentials of operators - their safety records, the qualifications of their staff and testimonials are good (but not exhaustive) indicators of their professional competence. It is also essential to ensure the organisation has public liability insurance to cover this type of event - ask them to provide evidence of this, such as a policy schedule.

Charities are particularly vulnerable to getting their fingers burned (no pun intended). A survey we carried out last year showed that one in three people would be prepared to sue a charity if they were injured at an associated event.

So remember - prevention is better than cure.

Key points

  • Some clear thought and planning can prevent things going wrong.
  • Subcontract some events to specialists.
  • Satisfy yourself of their credentials, including staff qualifications, safety records and testimonials.
  • Ensure they have public liability insurance.

- Gary Johnson is charities development manager at Royal & Sun Alliance

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