Ethics in volunteer engagement

Katie Campbell of the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) talked with our Volunteer Organisers Network about the core values and principles of volunteer management.
Katie gave the following tips for making ethical decisions:
Familiarise yourself with the different types of ethics

Ethics are a set of principles that define behaviour as right, good and proper. However, although there may be a shared definition of ethics, good behaviour means different things to different people.

There are three main types of ethics: personal, professional and organisational. Ethical dilemmas arise when different types of ethics are in conflict with each other.

Personal ethics are individual to each person. They are values and principles influenced by one’s history, life experience, religious beliefs and ethnic and cultural background.

Organisational ethics are a set of principles that govern the behaviour of a group of people. Some organisations call them guiding values, guiding principles or a code of ethics. The purpose of organisational ethics is to ensure that everyone is behaving in the same general way, without leaving it up to each person to behave only according to their own personal ethics.

Professional ethics are values and principles that apply to a specific field of activity or profession. They define a foundation of practice that is universally accepted no matter the setting.

Review CCVA’s code of ethics for volunteer administration

CCVA has published a set of core values and principles for volunteer organisers worldwide. There are five core values, each with a set of three principles that explain how the general value specifically applies to the field of volunteer management:

Citizenship: The Administrator of Volunteers understands that volunteerism is a foundation of civil societies and guides the organisation and its stakeholders toward active community participation.

  • Philosophy of Volunteerism: Maintain a clear personal philosophy on volunteerism and support the development of an organisational philosophy on volunteer engagement.
  • Social Responsibility: Facilitate a compassionate and caring culture through which community needs are met and shared values are enhanced.
  • Philanthropy: Cultivate and model the generosity of spirit, time and resources to further volunteer engagement and meet community needs.

Respect: The Administrator of Volunteers acknowledges the inherent value, skills and abilities of all individuals and affirms the mutual benefit gained by the volunteer and the organisation.

  • Dignity: Act in a compassionate manner that upholds the right of all volunteers to be valued and involved in decisions that affect them.
  • Inclusivity: Encourage and facilitate the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds, perspectives and abilities.
  • Privacy: Protect the privacy of individuals and information considered confidential.

Accountability: The Administrator of Volunteers demonstrates responsibility to the organisation, its stakeholders and the profession of volunteer administration.

  • Collaboration: Include stakeholders in the development and support of volunteer engagement and cultivate partnerships to enhance the impact of volunteers.
  • Continuous Improvement: Pursue excellence by enhancing professional competence, maintaining certifications and fostering innovation.
  • Professionalism: Provide outstanding service to the organisation and the people it serves while upholding personal and professional boundaries in all interactions.

Fairness: The Administrator of Volunteers commits to individual and collective efforts that build and support a fair and just organisational culture.

  • Impartiality: Remain unbiased and objective when working with stakeholders.
  • Equity: Ensure access to opportunities, resources and support which enable volunteers to be successful.
  • Justice: Implement open and consistent processes that inform decision‐making and address discriminatory or prejudicial behaviours.

Trust: The Administrator of Volunteers maintains loyal and trusting relationships with all stakeholders and is dedicated to providing a safe environment based on established standards of practice.

  • Honesty: Commit to the truth and strive for transparency.
  • Integrity: Demonstrate consistency between word and action by practicing ethical decision‐making and addressing conflicts of interest.
  • Commitment: Act in a forthright manner with sincere good intent and follow through on promises and agreements.
Use CCVA’s ethical decision making process

Now that you’ve reviewed CCVA’s core values and principles for volunteer administration, you may be thinking: this is great theory, but what does it look like in practice?

To help you make ethical decisions on the job, CCVA recommends following their ethical decision making process. By following these steps, you’ll gain a fuller understanding of the situation that you’re involved in, as well as consider multiple perspectives and possible outcomes before responding to the situation.

  1. Gather information: What other details or perspectives do you need to know about this situation? What led to this situation? Who are the stakeholders involved? Is there a policy or internal rule that would ordinarily apply to this situation?
  2. Identify the conflict: Which two or more core ethical values are at the heart of this dilemma? Where is the main conflict?
  3. Explore options and consequences: Generate a list of possible responses or actions and the possible consequences. Think about how each option might affect various stakeholders, negatively or positively. Always consider the option of doing nothing at all.
  4. Decide: Decide on the most ethical course of action by picking the course of action that produces the most positive consequences and the fewest negative consequences. Only violate a core ethical value if it is clearly necessary in order to advance another core ethical value that will produce a greater balance of good in the long run.
  5. Test: Test your decision by reviewing your thinking with a trusted colleague or mentor, or by using the CLICK method:
    • Consequences: What are the consequences if I do this? Am I clear about who will benefit and who might suffer?
    • Legal: Is it legal? Am I violating any laws?
    • Image: Would I be comfortable if this decision were announced publicly? If this decision hit the front page of the newspaper or went viral on social media, would I be comfortable with that? Would it harm or help our public image?
    • Culture: Does this decision support our organisation’s culture and values or does it damage it?
    • Knot: Does this action cause a knot in my stomach? On a gut level emotionally, do I feel comfortable with this? Would people who I like and respect approve of this decision?
  6. Act: Implement your decision with courage, confidence and professionalism.

You can practice CCVA’s ethical decision making process for yourself by using their ethical decision making worksheet.

Accept that there may not be an easy answer

When confronted with a challenging ethical decision, it’s natural that we want to find the absolute right answer. But the reality is that each situation is unique and often the choices we make may have some negative consequences. Sometimes the right answer doesn’t mean that there isn’t a downside, but rather that it’s the path of least harm or has the fewest negative consequences.

While you may not be able to guarantee that you’ve made the right decision, you will be able to justify your actions because you followed a rational, thoughtful process that took multiple perspectives into account.

Raise awareness of ethics within your organisation

The more you practice and exercise thinking about ethics, the easier it gets. You can encourage conversations about ethics within your organisation by:

  • Posting CCVA’s code of ethics where others can see it.
  • Discussing ethics at orientations with new staff and volunteers.
  • Dedicating time in staff or leadership meetings to focus on one of the ethical principles and discuss relevant scenarios relating to your organisation.
  • Identifying people in your network who can be your sounding board for difficult decisions.
Learn from other heritage volunteer organisers

We’re all in this together! If you liked this blog and watched the event recording and are keen for more information, you can sign up to Make Your Mark to access a Scotland-wide heritage volunteer organisers network. Joining Make Your Mark will also subscribe you to a monthly e-newsletter with top tips for heritage volunteer organisers. Signing up is free and easy – just fill out this short form.

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