Walking the Talk of Ethics
Walking the Talk of Ethics
On January 30, 2014, this article was published on VolunteerMatch's Engaging Volunteer's blog.
By Katie Campbell, Executive Director of the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA) and member of the Reimagining Service Council
- Do you consider yourself an ethical person? (Of course you do!)
- Do others in your organization know what you stand for?
- How can your co-workers and volunteers tell that you are ethical?
- Do your actions reflect your core values?
We all have a fairly good idea what “being ethical” means, based on our own experiences, values and beliefs. But in today’s complex world of social and organizational dynamics, our personal ethics is often not enough to tell us how to make the “right” decision at work. At the heart of every ethical dilemma there is a conflict between values – personal, professional, or organizational – which is exactly why it is so tough to choose the correct course of action.
In many organizations, ethics is talked about only at the Board table, or when a p.r. crisis looms, or after someone makes a really big mistake. Sure, we may have a “code of ethics” that was developed years ago. But functioning as an ethical organization requires more than posting a code of ethics on the office wall. The “code” must also live within every employee and every volunteer. There must be consistent modeling from the top, through the actions and words of board members and executive staff. There must be encouragement for staff and volunteers to speak up if they observe unethical behavior among colleagues. There must be opportunities for safe and open discussion of ethical questions and issues.
You may be wondering how the theoretical concept of ethics is relevant to your day-to-day work with volunteers. Well, here are a few examples of real ethical dilemmas encountered by colleagues in our field:
- You become aware of a vehicle in agency motor pool which is not being maintained well. You have received complaints from volunteers, and have heard the staff make jokes about trying to avoid using that particular vehicle. The staff person in charge of the motor pool is a very good friend of an influential donor to your agency.
- One of your agency’s Board members has heard rumors that one of your volunteer mentors had a skirmish with the law and had to appear in court. The Board member mentions this to you, and says the volunteer should be dismissed immediately.
- Your Executive Director asks you to coordinate a planning process which gets
volunteers more involved in the workings of your organization. However, you strongly suspect that this is nothing more than a token gesture, and doubt that the any of the recommendations suggested by volunteers will be implemented or taken seriously.
- As part of their assignment doing trail construction in state forest, a group of volunteers must be housed in congregate living. This involves no individual rooms, shared sleeping and bathroom facilities, and limited privacy. A transgender volunteer expresses concern to staff about how others will treat him and his potential exposure to fears, discrimination or prejudice from other workers. He asks to be allowed to stay in a private hotel room nearby.
- A teenage girl undergoing cancer treatment comes from a single-parent household living on the edge of poverty. The parent’s income barely covers rent and food. The patient’s social worker asks if the volunteer office has any funds that could be used so the girl can purchase a wig or special hat during her treatment. When the social worker learns there is no fund for this purpose, she begs the volunteer administrator to ask all the volunteers if they would like to donate money to help this young patient.
Would these scenarios keep you awake at night? Do you know how you would handle them ethically? Fortunately, there are resources available on how to navigate such tricky situations.
As with other professions, a set of professional ethical values and principles has been established for the field of volunteer administration, along with a simple decision-making process. These will be shared during this upcoming free webinar, along with some practical ideas for how you can increase the conversation about ethics throughout your organization.
In the final analysis, “walking the talk” consistently over time demands that our decision-making skills include:
- Competence – the ability to recognize an ethical issue when it appears at our door
- Confidence – the assurance and self-esteem to seek out different points of view rather than making the decision alone
- Tough-mindedness – the strength to ultimately make a decision and act even though there is no guarantee that it is the absolute “right” decision.
Join Katie Campbell from the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration as she discusses the role of ethics in volunteer engagement in our upcoming webinar on Tuesday February 11th.
- Professional Ethics in Volunteer Administration, Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration. www.cvacert.org
- How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, by Rushworth M. Kidder (Simon and Schuster, 1995)
- Obedience to the Unenforceable: Ethics and the Nation’s Voluntary and Philanthropic Community, Independent Sector, 1991. www.independentsector.org
- Institute for Global Ethics, www.globalethics.org
- Josephson Institute of Ethics, www.josephsoninstitute.org
Katherine H. Campbell, CVA, has worked in the field of nonprofit and volunteer management for over 30 years as practitioner, author, trainer and leader. She now serves as the Executive Director of the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA), managing professional credentialing programs for leaders of volunteers.