Conflicts of interest arise in everyday life. When a person or organisation has multiple, competing interests there is a possibility that independent decision-making can be impaired. Volunteer involving organisations are usually balancing a significant number of interests and are trusted to manage these ethically and transparently.
Processes for managing conflicts of interest are contained within organisational policies and procedures and form part of an organisation’s risk management plan in alignment with National Standard 1: Volunteering is embedded in leadership, governance and culture.
A conflict of interest arises when a personal interest conflicts with a responsibility to act in the best interests of an organisation. Conflicts of interest can be real or perceived and can happen at every level of an organisation. Conflicts of interest are particularly relevant to the governing body of an organisation as this body has a duty to act in the best interest of the organisation.
There are three types of conflicts:
- Actual – a conflicting interest is influencing decision-making.
- Potential – a conflicting interest may influence decision-making.
- Perceived – there may be an appearance that a conflicting interest is influencing decision-making.
Each type of conflict should be considered and managed appropriately.
Volunteers come from all walks of life and bring their personal experiences and values to their role. Most people are motivated to volunteer to give back to their community or to progress a cause they care about. Generally, there is no issue with volunteers having personal experience with a cause or volunteering for multiple organisations they care about. If they are honest with you about their motivations and goals and declare any interests that might conflict with their role, issues will rarely arise. It may be advantageous to have a simple register to capture any conflicts of interest with volunteers. Consider including a conversation about conflicts of interest and boundaries in your induction with all volunteers and provide training where necessary.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has produced a Managing Conflicts of Interest Guide to help organisations understand and manage conflicts of interest.