Our small animal-rescue nonprofit receives many inquiries from young people who would like to volunteer with us. We'd like to accommodate them, but have heard that we need to get parental consent and a waiver of liability. Is there some basic language that we can use to create a form for this?
You are correct that, when involving children under the age of 18 in your nonprofit group's activities, it's legally important to obtain their parents' consent.
The form you use for this should not only indicate this consent, but also contain a brief explanation of the intended activities and associated risks, and require the parents to promise that they will not sue your organization in the event that the child is injured as a result of the carelessness of other volunteers or participants (that's the "waiver" part).
Nolo looked into the possibility of creating such a form for general use, but decided that it's not practicable. Creating a standard parental consent and waiver form that will do the trick for all states and for every fundraising activity is nigh on impossible. It also needs to be carefully tailored to the activities that your volunteers will take on. The more specific the waiver with regard to the actual risks that the child (or other) volunteer will be exposed to, the more likely it is to stand up in a court of law.
In this situation, it's worth biting the bullet and hiring a local attorney who is experienced with nonprofit law to prepare a form for your nonprofit organization's use.
And even after having your volunteers or their parents sign a waiver form, be sure that your organization's insurance policy adequately covers injury to volunteers.