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The 5 Pillars of Ethical Volunteer Leadership: What Every Volunteer Leader Should Know

Many volunteer leaders work for organizations that strive to earn the community’'s trust through transparency and their commitment to ethical principles. It’s important for organizations to continually demonstrate their ethics by translating their values into actions in a meaningful way. 

But how do you, as the volunteer leader, fit into these conversations on ethics? What are the ways you can ensure the pillars of volunteer ethics are infused into your daily tasks?

In this must-read article for volunteer professionals, we explore the 5 pillars of ethical volunteer leadership and describe how you can stay committed to ethics at your organization.

Article Contents: 

What are Ethics and Why They’re Important
Why You Should Have a Volunteer Code of Conduct
Volunteer Leaders’ Role in Organization Ethics
The 5 Pillars of Ethical Volunteer Leadership
How to Promote Ethics at Your Organization

What are Ethics and Why They’re Important

So what does ethics really mean?

Ethics describes the set of principles we follow in order to ensure trust, good behavior, and equitable treatment, and to establish the consequences for not abiding by these policies.

Ethics are particularly important in the context of mission-driven organizations who are filling service gaps within a community or are serving vulnerable populations. Often, where policies and procedures fail, ethics are leaned on in order to reduce harm to community members or society. Volunteer leaders should always apply an ethical lens to their work with volunteers and the community.

Why You Should Have a Volunteer Code of Conduct

A Volunteer Code of Conduct is a key method for organizations to communicate a sense of right and wrong to its staff and volunteers.

People come to your organization with their own definitions of ethics. These differing ethical standards are based on their upbringing, religious background, cultural identity, or life experiences. Conflict arises when volunteers’ differing ethical codes clash with one another or with the values of your organization.

Therefore, it is best practice to document your organization’s ethics in an official Code of Conduct. This document should support your organization’s mission and should be signed by volunteers during volunteer onboarding.

Volunteer Leaders’ Role in Organization Ethics

All organizations who work with volunteers, especially those serving vulnerable populations, should have a documented code of conduct. Because volunteer leaders often act as the face of an organization, they play a key role in infusing these ethics into volunteer interactions with the communities they serve.

It is of the utmost importance for volunteer leaders to adhere to the rules and ethical guidelines of the organization and the profession in order for volunteers to do the same. This is because volunteer managers set the example for volunteers, as well as other staff members.

The 5 Pillars of Ethical Volunteer Leadership 

The Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration has been pivotal in codifying the ethics of volunteer leadership.

CCVA has identified the following core values that govern ethical volunteer leadership:

1. Citizenship

The volunteer leader acknowledges that volunteerism is a core activity in civil societies. The volunteer leader guides the organization, its stakeholders, and its donors towards community service, participation, and activism. They should uphold a strong personal commitment to volunteerism and support volunteer engagement efforts, while also striving to compassionately meet community needs. The volunteer leader should also model the values of generosity and philanthropy to meet their organization’s mission and community needs.

2. Respect

The volunteer leader should always show respect for volunteers and clients, and acknowledge the mutual benefit such a relationship holds. The volunteer leader should always act compassionately and fairly in all situations that affect volunteers. Strong volunteer leaders encourage a diverse range of voices to participate, demonstrate their abilities, and share their perspectives with the organization. An ethical volunteer leader will always safeguard any confidential or sensitive information of volunteers and clients of the organization, and will pledge to protect their privacy above all else.

3. Accountability

Volunteer managers should be dedicated to the organization, its stakeholders, and the community in which they serve. They cultivate community partnerships that will increase their organization’s impact, seek excellence through continuing education and certifications in their field, and maintain professional boundaries that best serve the organization and its clients.

4. Fairness

The volunteer leader should strive for a fair and ethical organizational culture. They should remain objective and unbiased when working with clients and stakeholders, and they should bolster the success of volunteers by maintaining equitable access to opportunities, resources and support. It is up to the volunteer leader to identify and quickly put an end to discriminatory or unjust behaviors.

5. Trust 

Ethical volunteer leaders should build transparent relationships with volunteers and clients in order to cultivate a safe organizational environment. Honesty, integrity, and consistency should guide their words and actions, and they should practice ethical decision making based on the organization’s code of conduct.

Resource: CCVA offers recurring ethical training for volunteer leaders. 

How to Promote Ethics at Your Organization

The more you lead with an ethical lens, the more other people will follow suit at your organization.

There are several ways that you can get your organization talking about ethical volunteer leadership:

  • Post CCVA’s code of ethics around your office space
  • Write and implement a Volunteer Code of Ethics
  • Discuss your organization’s values during volunteer orientation 
  • Dedicate meeting time to discussing ethical principles or issues that have arisen when interacting with the community 
  • Seek community feedback about ways in which you can improve transparency or ethics.
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