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How to Write a Volunteer Code of Ethics

Have you heard about volunteer programs utilizing a volunteer code of ethics? Are you curious about whether to implement something similar for your organization? 

In our experience, all organizations who work with volunteers, especially those serving vulnerable populations, should have a documented code of conduct . Having a written volunteer code of conduct that articulates your organization’s core beliefs can be useful for both practical reasons and ethical considerations. 

As you continue to grow your volunteer program, use this framework for creating a volunteer code of conduct that fits your organization and supports your mission.

Let’s get started! 

What Is a Volunteer Code of Ethics?

A “volunteer code of ethics is a document that outlines the expectations your organization has for how volunteers should conduct themselves while representing your organization.

These guidelines typically cover:

  • Volunteer relationships
  • Behaviors
  • Communications
  • Organizational policies that govern volunteer service

The purpose of adopting a volunteer code of conduct is to provide volunteers, stakeholders, and staff with guidelines for ethical behavior. This ethical code should be unique to your organization and its mission and should be signed by volunteers during volunteer onboarding.

You may choose to post this ethical code of conduct on your organization’s website to remain transparent about internal operations and expectations.

Note, you may also come across the terms "volunteer code of conduct" or "nonprofit code of ethics." These terms typically refer to the same type of document.

Why Is a Volunteer Code of Conduct Important?

Establishing a code of conduct for nonprofits is important because it concretely communicates respectful, safe, and acceptable behaviors to people from different communities or cultural backgrounds. By removing ambiguity from the volunteer experience, your organization can more objectively hold volunteers accountable for their actions and behaviors.

Not only does an integrity-based ethics code protect your organization, but it also protects your volunteers. This document can play a key role in helping them set appropriate boundaries during the volunteer experience.

A transparent volunteer code of ethics should also be viewed as a preventative measure. Should you need to take disciplinary action with a volunteer, your organization can refer to the signed code of conduct and point to the infraction that has occurred. 

How to Write a Volunteer Code of Ethics and Conduct

Time and again, we see that the biggest advantage of having a written volunteer agreement in place is that it minimizes miscommunication and misunderstanding between the volunteer and the organization. Therefore, we suggest that you keep your volunteer code of conduct simple and straightforward.

Your volunteer code of conduct should include what your organization is offering the volunteer, such as orientation, proper training, or skills placement.

Your agreement should also include how volunteerism contributes to the goals and mission of your organization, as well as the policies, rules, and expectations your organization has for its service.

Volunteer codes of ethics typically include the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Obligations and Expectations
  • Anti-Racism, Harassment, and Bullying
  • Attendance and Punctuality
  • Confidentiality 
  • Dress code (if applicable) 
  • Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use Policies
  • Consequences for Breaches of Code of Conduct
  • Dates and Signatures 

Nonprofit Code of Conduct Sample

Below we have created a sample code of conduct that your organization can use to craft your own ethical guidelines. Make sure to replace the underlined portions with information that is relevant to your organization.

As a volunteer with [Name of Organization], you are expected to maintain ethical and professional conduct while on our premises, during volunteer shifts or activities, and/or when representing our organization in the community.

This Volunteer Code of Conduct aims to clearly communicate the required standards of behavior while volunteering with [Name of Organization]. We expect our volunteers to act respectfully, honestly, and ethically while fulfilling their responsibilities, and in their interactions with our staff, fellow volunteers, and community members.

Introduction

In this section, include your organization’s unique mission statement and objectives. You might also include why your organization depends on volunteers and how they fit into your overall mission.

Obligations and Expectations

Volunteers are expected to follow the ethical standards outlined in this code of conduct. Moreover, volunteers are expected to uphold [Name of Organization’s] mission and maintain a professional image while representing the organization in public.

During their service with [Name of Organization], volunteers must fulfill the following duties:

Use these bullet points to outline the core values, core volunteer duties, and tasks.

  •  
  •  
  •  

In return, volunteers should expect the following: 

Use these bullet points to mention volunteer training and reimbursements.

  •  
  •  
  •  

Anti-Racism, Harassment, and Bullying

[Name of Organization] has a zero-tolerance policy for racism, discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying of any kind.

These behaviors include but are not limited to: offensive physical actions such as lewd gestures; statements meant to humiliate a person publicly or individually; the use of racial slurs or “jokes”; sexually explicit communication that is either written or spoken; any unwelcome physical contact with other volunteers, staff, or clients; any unwanted sexual attention; harassment due to a person’s race, color, gender, identity, religion, language, medical condition, age, culture, national origin, gender expression, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.

If you witness these behaviors, you are required to notify [Name of Volunteer Manager/Appropriate Person] immediately. If you engage in any of these behaviors, you will receive prompt disciplinary action and/or termination without notice.

Attendance and Punctuality

[Name of Organization] depends on you to arrive on time for your scheduled shift. We ask that if you know you will be late or absent, please notify [Name of Contact Person] as soon as possible. Repeated tardiness or absences may result in suspension or termination.

Confidentiality 

During the course of their duties, volunteers will likely have access to, deal with, or become aware of confidential information and circumstances surrounding those we serve. This information must be kept strictly confidential. Any breach of confidentiality will result in disciplinary action up to and including the termination of volunteer services.

Dress Code

It is important that volunteers dress appropriately for their volunteer role so that they can fulfill their volunteer duty safely and comfortably. We ask that you refrain from wearing clothing that displays obscene language or offensive material while representing our organization. 

Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use

Volunteer activities must be conducted without the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. These substances are prohibited from [Name of Organization’s] premises. While medical and recreational marijuana use is legal in some states, we are under no obligation to accommodate its use in our offices, at our events, or on our premises.

If alcohol is served during a volunteer event or business function, volunteers are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate and professional manner.

Tobacco use is prohibited inside our buildings, vehicles, during volunteer activities, or at volunteer events. Tobacco products may only be consumed in designated smoking areas and disposed of responsibly.

Breaches of the Volunteer Code of Conduct 

By failing to uphold the ethical considerations in this document, volunteers should expect disciplinary action. It is at [Name of Organization’s] discretion whether to issue a warning or to terminate services as a volunteer. [Name of Organization] has the right to release or terminate volunteers at its discretion. [Name of Organization] is not responsible for any monetary losses accrued as a result of breaches of conduct. 

By signing this Volunteer Code of Conduct, I indicate that I have read, understood, and agree to uphold and abide by the outlined values. I also agree to accept consequences as a result of not following our Volunteer Code of Conduct.

All minor volunteers are required to have this signed by their parent or guardian. 

Signature of Volunteer:

Date:

Signature of Parent or Guardian:

Date: 

Volunteer Code of Conduct Examples

The following are excellent examples of volunteer codes of conduct. Draw inspiration from these when writing your own ethical guidelines for volunteers! 

Habitat for Humanity
SA Ambulance Service
American Cancer Society

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