The Legalities of CSR

How to avoid the risks associated with charitable activities

Quick tips
Most CSR events that allow attendees to participate have some sort of financial outlay for supplies like bike parts, notebooks, pens, backpacks, even soaps and toothbrushes. Specify in your agreement who is paying for the materials.

Check with the charitable group to see if they already have waivers available for participants.

Find out more about the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects those who donate from liability, at

Organizations increasingly are adding corporate social responsibility elements to their events. The intentions are always good, but the problem is, not all good deeds go unpunished. In establishing a CSR program, the planner needs to take into consideration the legal ramifications.

Food Donations
All organizations that give away leftover meals and ingredients to shelters and food pantries are protected from liability by the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. However, in some circumstances the act does not apply. If the organization is paid to donate the food, it is not protected. Gross negligence, or products that fail to meet labeling requirements, also invite risk.

Attendees at Work
When undertaking a project where attendees get involved, such as building bikes, rehabbing buildings and the like, you need to provide a waiver of liability and release to be signed by those who participate. This document should be succinct, outlining the risks participants are taking on when the activity gets going.  

In addition, attendees must be provided with appropriate safety gear and instructions -- what they should and shouldn't do -- before they start using a circular saw or climbing a ladder.

Third-Party Help
When enlisting an outside firm to help establish the program, whether a destination management company or the charity itself, check them out beforehand, exploring similar programs they have run. Good sources include the convention and visitors bureau, the ground operator and other groups that have conducted CSR programs at your venue or with the charity.

Insurance Coverage
In your due diligence, determine if the organizations you are dealing with are covered by insurance that might also cover your participants. If possible, ask the beneficiary organization to name you as a co-insured or to provide its certificate of insurance.

Speaking of insurance, make sure your group has adequate coverage for both the organization and your participants. Your liability insurance should cover your organization from the potential of substantial legal fees and grief if the unexpected occurs.

Contract Matters
As with all elements of your meeting, develop a detailed agreement between your organization and the entity that will benefit from your CSR program. This should include a hold-harmless provision, permission for you to publicize your participation, the naming of your organization as a co-insured and each party's specific responsibilities.

Questions? Check with your lawyer.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Email questions to him at