Updated August 30, 2021
Although it may seem like a prohibitive and unnecessary expense compared to your day-to-day animal care work, if you are operating an animal sanctuary, proper insurance coverage should be considered one of the top priorities in your annual budget. Sanctuaries, especially those who regularly allow members of the public to volunteer or visit, have a number of diverse challenges and hazards that could potentially spell the end of the organization should an accident or altercation occur on sanctuary grounds. As this would jeopardize the welfare of your residents, you must attempt to mitigate all potential risks that you can manage within your budgetary constraints. Nearly 90 percent of all nonprofit insurance claims are due to accidents and injuries, and the legal costs associated with the defense to such claims can very quickly climb well beyond the restitution sought by a claimant.
There are a broad number of coverage options for insurance policies depending on the companies open to insuring your sanctuary and the regional regulations you may be obligated to follow.
Types Of Coverage
Insurance coverage types vary significantly depending on what protections they offer and how individual insurers decide to define the parameters of what their insurance covers and excludes. When you begin seeking out quotes and building packages, make sure to read all of the fine print and determine whether there are any glaring gaps in what your policy provides!
General Liability Insurance
This is probably the most important coverage for an animal sanctuary. It should cover any kind of bodily injury or property damage claims levied against your organization, your residents, or people who act on behalf of your sanctuary. It also protects against claims such as defamation or copyright infringement. When looking into General Liability Insurance, you’ll want to know whether it also covers any events that may take place off of your sanctuary’s grounds, such as for fundraisers or award ceremonies. Some basic General Liability Insurance policies specifically exclude anything to do with animals, so you’ll need to read the fine print and ask many questions to make sure that your sanctuary is protected! You should also ask whether volunteers receive coverage under the policies you’re looking at.
Nearly all nonprofits that are formally organized in the United States with employees are legally required to have some sort of Worker’s Compensation policy. If an employee gets injured at your organization, this will cover their expenses. This is another piece of coverage that can potentially be extended to include coverage for volunteers at your sanctuary.
Directors And Officers Insurance (D&O)
This insurance coverage protects the director and board members from financial damages, typically resulting from employment disputes, though there are many other scenarios where this insurance is valuable. Without this insurance, members of the board can potentially be held liable and heavily penalized for actions of the organization or actions taken by employees, of which they may not even be aware! Although it may be tempting to disregard this coverage, it can be financially disastrous for a board to sort out legal accusations against them without protection.
Property insurance is critical for sanctuaries. Typically, structures and resident living spaces will be some of the most expensive costs a sanctuary will incur. This coverage helps to recover costs for both structures themselves and the property within them in the event of damage or destruction. You’ll want to ensure that you are covering as much of the value of your property as you can, as these costs could potentially bankrupt your sanctuary in the event of losing a high cost structure. Property coverage can potentially also include things such as loss due to natural disasters, vandalism, or theft.
This coverage, similar to personal car insurance, can be a highly flexible policy which could cover accidents, towing, and comprehensive claims for the vehicles at your sanctuary and those used for organizational purposes. You can also extend the policy to cover the vehicles of employees and volunteers on sanctuary business (typically known as “Hired or Non-Owned Liability”), which can be critical; personal car insurance very typically does not insure vehicles being used for work purposes. If full coverage is cost-prohibitive, you can add a business endorsement to personal car insurance to add some protection affordably.
Other Policies To Consider
Depending on your organization’s needs, there are other types of coverage that may be financially advantageous to consider, including:
- Environmental hazard policies which cover damages to your property due to things such as flooding, wildfire, or earthquakes that may be more common in your area
- Crime loss protection if you have concerns about the safety of your sanctuary’s property
- Mechanical device coverage to reduce the cost of replacing expensive machinery, specialized tools, or things such as climate control equipment in the event of accidents or machinery simply breaking down
- Electronic data processing coverage is typically an affordable option to protect both your computers and data in the event of accidents or malfunctions
- Animal insurance may seem unusual for a sanctuary, but some pet insurance companies do cover non-typical companion animal species. You may have to shop around, but it can be possible to get pet insurance for a sanctuary resident to help lower unexpected veterinary costs. However, it would probably be quite expensive to get insurance for everybody at your sanctuary!
- Umbrella liability insurance can be a highly affordable method of extending all of your policy liability limits without adding very much cost to your premium
Seeking Out Insurance Companies
Once you’ve worked out exactly what type of coverage you’d like to receive for your organization, you can approach insurance companies and begin the process of finding a policy and insurer that suits your needs and will work with you. Because animal sanctuaries are not a typical organization, there is a great chance that many (if not all) insurers that can provide coverage to you will not have worked with an organization like yours before and may have to provide coverage using a different classification than you may expect; for instance, as rightfully opposed as you may be to the comparison, insurers have been known to categorize animal sanctuaries as petting zoos!
Unfortunately, it is quite common for many insurers to offer prohibitively expensive premiums or to outright refuse insuring animal sanctuaries as many insurers perceive animal organizations to be high-risk. It’s important to shop around as much as possible in order to find the mix of cost versus protection that your organization is most comfortable with.
There are some insurance companies that focus their policies on nonprofits, and more specifically, some that provide quotes specifically for animal welfare organizations and shelters. Speaking to other sanctuaries, shelters, rescues and other animal welfare organizations might be a good way to help you find such an insurance provider to seek quotes from, if local insurance companies cannot meet your needs. However, just because an organization claims to support your mission and offers competitive rates, this does not excuse you from doing your due diligence to seek out a broad range of options! It’s very possible that an insurance company that conducts almost no marketing towards organizations such as yours ends up providing you with the best solution!
Working With A Broker
It may be prudent to seek out an insurance broker to work with to help you in this search, as navigating individual companies and their policies can be daunting for those without insurance backgrounds. A broker can help mediate between you and insurers, help determine what policies are right for you, and possibly help save you money by seeking out solutions that you may not be aware of. As brokers are typically paid a commission by the insurance companies, this provides you with a cost-effective way to find a solution that works best for your organization.
If you do use a broker, make sure that they come with good references (especially from other regional animal protection organizations if possible) and are willing to learn specifically what it is that your organization does and what it needs so that they can accurately convey your necessities to insurance companies. You should be able to ask them extensive questions, and they should be patient enough to answer them all to your satisfaction. You do need to exercise some caution when working with brokers, as some have been known to steer nonprofits to unnecessarily expensive solutions or to specific companies who offer the agent extra income for sending clients their way. If you are dissatisfied with how a broker is conducting your search, you can always seek out another to work with.
Now That You’re Insured
Once you’ve received coverage, make sure to follow your insurer’s rules and be especially mindful should they ever send out an inspector to review your property and suggest safety improvements! Complying with suggested safety modifications (if you can afford them) not only makes your sanctuary safer for everybody, but it may even help reduce your premiums in the future.
The number one way to keep affordable insurance (and not risk being dropped by an insurer) is to keep risk to a minimum! This includes taking steps such as establishing appropriate policies for everyone who sets foot on your property, providing effective volunteer training and oversight, following OSHA standards where possible, minimizing fire risk on your property, establishing effective contingency policies, and being proactive about any potential safety concerns on your property as they arise. Although insurance provides a critical safety net if things go wrong, establishing and following best practices can help them go right!