Last updated January 2023
Each year, AFS-USA Volunteers e-sign the Volunteer Agreement during the annual volunteer registration process. Below you'll find the expanded Volunteer Polices that volunteers agree to abide by when signing the Volunteer Agreement. Headings include:
- What Volunteers Can Expect
- Compliance with all Policies, Procedures, Regulations, and Standards
- Volunteer Code of Conduct
- Notification Policy
- Volunteer Non-Disclosure Agreement
- Conflicts of Interest
- Volunteer Training
- Volunteering as an At-Will Engagement
- Volunteer Social Media Policy
- Volunteer Performance Management
AFS-USA Mission Statement
AFS-USA empowers people to become globally engaged citizens by delivering meaningful intercultural experiences that provide the knowledge and skills needed to help create a more just and peaceful world.
Volunteer policies ensure that AFS-USA provides all AFS-USA Volunteers with a reasonable and uniform system of administration. They reflect the core values of AFS-USA, as well as the importance of the volunteer-staff partnership. Volunteer policies help to inform AFS-USA Volunteers on how they should perform their duties in their volunteer roles. Volunteer policies provide a shared understanding of relationships between AFS-USA and its volunteers, and they assist with meeting volunteer expectations. AFS-USA Volunteer Polices apply to all registered AFS-USA Volunteers. AFS-USA reserves the right to change Volunteer Policies at any time, and any such change will take precedence over the previous version of the Volunteer Policies.
1. What Volunteers Can Expect
Volunteers are central to the mission and values of AFS-USA. To meet regulatory requirements and discharge its duty of care for volunteers, while working to provide a positive volunteer experience, AFS-USA will:
- Recruit, screen, and register volunteers in accordance with AFS-USA standards, the AFS-USA Equity and Inclusion statement, and equal opportunity and non-discrimination laws and regulations;
- Comply with all volunteer policies;
- Define volunteer roles and develop clear role position descriptions;
- Provide appropriate levels of support and management for volunteers;
- Provide volunteers with required orientations, required trainings, and optional development opportunities;
- Provide liability insurance coverage;
- Ensure that volunteers have access to information on polices relating to grievance reporting and disciplinary policies and procedures, which are described in this document;
- Treat volunteers with respect at all times; and
- Recognize and acknowledge the many contributions that volunteers make to the organization and its mission.
2. Compliance with all Policies, Procedures, Regulations, and Standards
Volunteers must comply with the AFS-USA Volunteer Code of Conduct described in the next section and all other AFS-USA Volunteer Policies, procedures, AFS International Quality Standards, and all regulations and standards established by the U.S. Department of State (“Department of State” or “DoS”) and the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET). AFS-USA Volunteer Policies take precedence over any local team or chapter bylaws. AFS-USA operates in a highly regulated environment, and volunteers who choose to apply their own interpretation of quality standards, rules, or regulations undermine the management of AFS-USA and put AFS participants and AFS-USA’s reputation and ability to operate at risk. Failure to adhere to all policies and regulations can result in the termination of a volunteer’s association with AFS-USA. For a full listing of CSIET standards and DoS regulations pertaining to secondary students, please see the following links:
Department of State Regulations
3. Volunteer Code of Conduct
AFS-USA’s highest value is its commitment to the safety, welfare, and well-being of all people participating in its programs. AFS-USA will act without hesitation to promote a safe environment for its participants at all times. Volunteers must demonstrate appropriate behavior at all times.
In addition, AFS-USA Volunteers must:
- Conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their volunteer role as a representative of AFS-USA;
- Follow all AFS-USA policies and guidelines for the safety of program participants;
- Become a fully-vetted host family prior to overnighting an AFS participant in their home;
- Ensure that another volunteer or a staff member is involved when dealing with issues of potential risk;
- Treat all program participants, families, fellow volunteers, and staff members with respect;
- Raise any concerns or issues with the appropriate volunteer or staff member;
- Immediately report to the appropriate AFS-USA Support staff when any allegation is made or suspicion of any type of abuse of a participant is present. This includes verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; and
- Give care and respect to participants concerning any information that may be viewed as sensitive and should be treated as confidential information.
AFS-USA Volunteers must never:
- Force participants into any activity which makes them feel uncomfortable;
- Hold or touch a participant in a manner that is inappropriate or perceived as inappropriate by the participant;
- Make lewd, racist, ethnic, or sexually suggestive comments, gestures, or jokes;
- Send texts or social media messages that include any language or images that could be interpreted as suggestive, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate; or
- Discriminate based on issues related to gender, ability, race, religion, class, age, national origin, marital status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
While touching and physical contact can be appropriate, it should be:
- In response to an appropriate need of the minor and not a need or want of the adult;
- Done with the minor’s permission; resistance should be respected;
- Respectful, avoiding breasts, buttocks, and groin; and
- Open and non-secretive.
Touching or physical contact should be governed by the age of the minor. For example, sitting on an adult’s lap may be appropriate for a 3-year-old child, but it is not appropriate for a 16-year-old teenager.
AFS-USA supports the rights and well-being of our host families, natural families, volunteers, and staff members, and it encourages their active participation in building and maintaining a secure environment for all participants.
4. Notification Policy
AFS-USA Volunteers are required to report any concerns about the health and well-being of AFS participants to the appropriate support volunteer in their volunteer team and, where appropriate or required, to AFS-USA staff.
AFS-USA is required to promptly notify the Department of State of any unusual or exceptional incidents that may bring the Department of State or AFS-USA into notoriety or disrepute.
Further, AFS-USA must report all incidents involving alleged sexual misconduct.
Additional situations that must be reported to staff include but are not limited to:
- Life-threatening health conditions (including but not limited to traumatic brain injury, severe burn, debilitating heart condition, major surgery, seizure disorder, etc.);
- Allegations that the host family has taken or misappropriated an AFS participant’s money or credit cards;
- Incidents involving the criminal justice system (police, child protective services, etc.);
- Patterns of behavior problems (substance abuse, aggressive physical contact, bullying, etc.);
- Mental health issues (eating disorder, cutting, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, etc.);
- Host parent substance abuse;
- Threat of negative press;
- Foreign government or embassy involvement (incident expected to bring the US Department of State or AFS-USA into notoriety or disrepute);
- Events, alleged or actual, where an AFS participant is claimed to be the victim or perpetrator of sexual assault or another crime;
- Public events or natural disasters directly involving student safety (school shooting/violence, earthquake, tornado, flood, etc.);
- Students missing (or runaway) for longer than 24 hours; and
- Lost DS2019 Forms and passports.
When AFS-USA is informed of any incident or allegation involving the actual or alleged sexual exploitation or abuse of a participant, the Manager of Government and Legal Affairs will review the applicable laws and consult with AFS legal counsel to determine the appropriate course of action.
Volunteers are required to disclose or update any material information during or after the application process including, but not limited to, changes in address, conflicts of interest, arrest, and criminal charges or convictions.
Volunteers are duty-bound not to reveal "Confidential or Proprietary Information" or "Private Information" to anyone not authorized to receive it during the fulfillment of a volunteer role. AFS-USA records or related information may not be removed from AFS-USA premises or shared without permission from AFS-USA, except in the appropriate course of performing volunteer duties on behalf of AFS-USA. This includes, without limitation, paper or electronic documents, notes, files, records, or similar materials. "Confidential or Proprietary Information" is defined as any information that (a) is discovered or developed by AFS USA staff or volunteers that specifically relates to the manner in which AFS-USA and its affiliates conduct their business, and (b) is information that has been created, discovered, or developed by, or is known by AFS-USA to have value. For example, Confidential or Proprietary Information includes but is not limited to private donor lists and related information, host-family or volunteer lists, all donor or sponsored program proposals, all manuals, and any materials developed and written for the use of AFS-USA.
"Private Information" is defined as any information that is personal or confidential in nature and relates to AFS-USA employees, participants, sending and hosting families, volunteers or any person or entity with which AFS-USA conducts business. For example, private information includes all participant, volunteer, host family, and natural family personal information.
Additionally, if a volunteer role leads to the receipt of information concerning issues of participant support, it may not be divulged except to appropriate volunteer leaders or staff in accordance with the AFS-USA notification policy and as needed to ensure the safety and well-being of our participants.
If a volunteer is unsure about the confidential or private nature of specific information, the volunteer should ask their immediate volunteer or staff manager for clarification before disclosing that information. Inappropriately sharing or disclosing any “Confidential or Proprietary” or “Private” information can result in the termination of a volunteer’s association with AFS-USA and may also result in legal proceedings.
6. Volunteer Non-Disclosure Agreement
AFS-USA and its affiliates collect, track, and process certain information about AFS participants and their natural families, host families, volunteers, schools, community project organizations, sponsors, and others ("AFS Stakeholders") that may be deemed “personal data” and regulated by law in some jurisdictions, including but not limited to European Union Member countries. The law in those jurisdictions requires AFS-USA to observe certain standards when processing personal data. For these purposes, the term “processing” includes obtaining, recording, holding, transferring, adapting, disclosing, erasing, and otherwise using data. For example, AFS-USA must maintain accurate, up-to-date personal data which is kept for no longer than necessary and is protected against loss or disclosure. In connection with volunteer activities, a volunteer will have access to and will process such personal data. Volunteers shall maintain in confidence and safeguard all personal data of AFS Stakeholders and shall not disclose such personal data to third parties nor use such personal data for any other purpose other than as a part of my volunteer activities with AFS-USA.
Volunteers must hold in confidence all Confidential Information that they obtain from or develop for AFS-USA. “Confidential Information” means any computer passwords, server logs, all work product, personal data of AFS Stakeholders, any content or other materials or information that a volunteer might receive or learn from AFS-USA. Volunteers must not use Confidential Information to their own benefit or to the benefit of others or disclose to others at any time during or after their involvement with AFS-USA, without AFS-USA’s prior written consent. Volunteers must not knowingly disclose to AFS-USA any information that is known to be secret, confidential, or proprietary to any other person, organization, or firm. The foregoing restrictions on disclosure shall not apply to Confidential Information which is (a) already known or becomes known publicly, (b) received by a volunteer from a third party without a restriction on disclosure or use, or (c) independently developed by a volunteer without reference to AFS-USA’s Confidential Information.
By signing the Volunteer Agreement, a volunteer explicitly acknowledges and confirms to AFS-USA, Inc., its affiliates, and its partner organizations that said volunteer will not disclose Confidential Information and will safeguard personal data, except as provided above.
7. Conflict of Interest
Volunteers are expected to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards of conduct and to devote their best efforts to promote the interests of AFS-USA and its mission. While AFS-USA recognizes the right of volunteers to engage in activities outside of AFS-USA which are of a private nature and unrelated to the AFS-USA business, any business dealings or actions that may appear to create a conflict of interest are unacceptable. A conflict of interest exists where the interests, concerns, and aims of AFS-USA and its mission are incompatible with those of a volunteer. Although it is not possible to specify every action or inaction that might create a conflict of interest, this policy sets forth the scenarios which most frequently present problems.
Actual or apparent conflict of interest may arise if a volunteer (or an immediate family member such as a spouse, child, or parent):
- Competes with the interests or services of AFS-USA, either directly or indirectly;
- Has a financial interest or any position in any entity with which AFS-USA does business or which provides services in competition with AFS-USA, either directly or indirectly;
- Provides services to any outside entity that does business with or competes with AFS-USA;
- Accepts gifts, entertainment, or other favors from any entity that does or seeks to do business with, or is in competition with, AFS-USA;
- Uses information gained in the course of performing AFS-USA duties to his or her advantage; or
- Discloses, or uses to advantage, confidential or proprietary information relating to AFS-USA’s business.
In order to avoid a conflict of interest and protect the safety and well-being of the participants, the US Department of State places certain restrictions on the actions of volunteers involved in the recruitment, screening, selection, orientation, or support of AFS participants or host families. These regulations require that a volunteer cannot be:
- A host family for one sponsor (e.g. an exchange organization such as AFS hosting students on J-1 visas) and a local coordinator (e.g. an AFS liaison) for a different sponsor; or
- A local coordinator (e.g. an AFS liaison) for any exchange student over whom the volunteer holds a position of trust or authority such as the student’s teacher, principal, or coach. (This requirement is not applicable to a boarding school placement.)
If you suspect or believe that you may have a conflict of interest, you are required to disclose the conflict in writing to the AFS-USA Volunteer Development Department at email@example.com. Failure to disclose conflicts of interest or failure to avoid or refrain from actions that create conflicts of interest (or appearance thereof) may result in the termination of a volunteer’s association with AFS-USA.
Any volunteer who will be transporting students or people involved in AFS-USA activities in their motor vehicle must meet all of the following qualifications:
- Be 21 years of age;
- Possess a valid driver’s license appropriate to the vehicle;
- Possess automobile insurance which satisfies the requirements of their state;
- Have no more than two moving violations within three years;
- Have no more than one at-fault accident within three years;
- Have no DUI/DWI convictions within five years at the time of application*; and
- Require use of seatbelts for all passengers.
*Depending on a volunteer’s roles and responsibilities, a DUI/DWI conviction within 5 years could result in suspension of a volunteer role, such as liaison, for a period of 5 years from the conviction date.
9. Volunteer Training
AFS-USA Volunteers must successfully complete any trainings required for specific volunteer role(s) and complete any refresher courses required to continue in those roles on an annual basis. A list of volunteer roles and related trainings can be found here. The content of these trainings may include but is not limited to:
- History, Mission, and Structure of AFS-USA;
- Conflict resolution;
- Procedures for handling and reporting emergency situations;
- Awareness or knowledge of child safety standards;
- Information on sexual conduct codes;
- Procedures for handling and reporting allegations of sexual misconduct or any other allegations of abuse or neglect; and
- The criteria to be used to screen potential host families and exercise good judgment when identifying what constitutes suitable host family placements.
In addition to training required by AFS-USA, volunteers involved in the recruitment, screening, selection, orientation, or support of participants or host families must also successfully complete the DoS mandated certification training prior to assumption of their duties and must renew their DoS certification on an annual basis.
10. Volunteering as an At-Will Engagement
The relationship which exists between AFS-USA and each of its volunteers is volunteering-at-will. Under this relationship, volunteers are free to end their association with AFS-USA for any reason, with or without prior notice. Likewise, AFS-USA may, at any time, decide to end an individual’s volunteer association, with or without cause or prior notice, at its sole discretion. This document and other AFS-USA manuals supply the volunteer with a summary of AFS-USA policies. AFS-USA reserves the right to change Volunteer Policies at any time, and any such change will take precedence over the previous version of the Volunteer Policies.
11. Volunteer Social Media Policy
We know that AFS-USA Volunteers are very passionate about advancing the AFS mission. Volunteers make the world a better place through their efforts across the United States. We believe in open communication, and we encourage volunteers to tell the world about their volunteer experience and passion. However, social media and online communication are changing the way that everyone interacts, including with host families, students, and communities.
Volunteers are representatives of AFS-USA, and we are committed to ensuring that volunteers engage with social media responsibly by demonstrating positive behavior that is not detrimental to themselves, other users, or to the organization’s reputation. Click here to view the guidelines and best practices for online engagement in the Volunteer Social Media Policy.
12. Volunteer Performance Management
AFS-USA Volunteers agree to perform their duties to the best of their ability and in accordance with the position description for their volunteer role(s). Volunteers report to and are accountable to a fellow volunteer in a leadership role and regional staff. Managers (the volunteer or staff person to whom a volunteer reports) are expected to provide clear expectations of volunteer role(s), as well as the knowledge, training, and materials needed to effectively perform volunteer responsibilities. In addition, managers should also provide constructive feedback as needed and recognition for contributions.
In cases where a volunteer may not be fulfilling a role adequately, may be exhibiting inappropriate behavior, or may be failing to adhere to standards, policies, or procedures, it is a manager’s responsibility to ensure that appropriate feedback is given and that the volunteer is supported in making improvements. If, after receiving feedback and support, the volunteer continues to be unable or unwilling to fulfill a specific role adequately, the volunteer may be removed from the volunteer role or reassigned to a different role by the volunteer leadership in the team or by a staff person.
In more serious cases, if the volunteer’s performance or behavior fails to improve, or if the volunteer continues to fail to adhere to standards, policies, or procedures, staff may be asked to consider terminating the volunteer’s association with AFS-USA. Additional volunteer management terms include:
- When a volunteer fails to adhere to any DoS regulations or CSIET Standards, the issue must be referred to and reviewed by the Senior Director of Risk Management, Compliance, and Quality Assurance (RMCQA). An example might be evidence that a volunteer has moved a student into a non-compliant home without staff approval.
- Any failure to adhere to DoS regulations and/or CSIET standards may result in reprimand or termination of the volunteer’s association with AFS-USA.
- In situations involving allegations of inappropriate conduct toward or endangerment of a participant, the Senior Director of RMCQA may immediately suspend or terminate the volunteer’s association with AFS-USA.
- A volunteer may appeal decisions made about his or her volunteer status or request a review of actions taken by any AFS administrative bodies, staff, or volunteers regarding his or her performance. An appeal should describe the decision being appealed and the nature of the appeal, not to exceed 1,000 words. Such an appeal should be made within 30 days of notification of the decision and can be sent to Volunteer Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the appeal is related to the termination of a volunteer’s association with AFS-USA, Volunteer Services will consult with the Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement, the AFS-USA President, and the National Council Chair, if appropriate. The AFS-USA President will make a final determination regarding the appeal and will notify the volunteer of the decision in writing within 30 days of receipt of the appeal request.
If a volunteer would like to file a grievance, and the volunteer has already attempted to address the grievance with the other person, then the volunteer filing the grievance should send a grievance statement to Volunteer Services at AskAFS@afsusa.org for support in resolving the grievance. A grievance statement should include:
- Your name;
- The name of the person against whom you are filing the grievance;
- A brief description of the basis/nature of the grievance (not to exceed 30 words);
- The time period/circumstances leading to the grievance (not to exceed 30 words);
- Grievance statement (not to exceed 1,000 words); and
- Your suggested resolution of the situation.
- Depending on your level of involvement with AFS, PII that you submit to us may include, amongst other things, your identity, your home and e-mail address, your date of birth, your (mobile) telephone number, schools attended, highest grade/qualification received, an image, photo or video of you, specific AFS program information (type, year, etc.), travel itineraries, a personal statement, your CV or resumé, certain medical history and medical disclosures, as well as answers to specific questions;
- AFS-USA collects and uses your PII for the purpose of operating AFS programs and activities, informing you about AFS programs, and, depending on your level of involvement, helping you fulfill your role as an AFS staff, volunteer, host family, or participant;
- For the purpose of providing its services, AFS-USA may transfer this PII to AFS organizations and other parties involved in the provision of AFS services in other countries;
- AFS-USA transfers this PII across international borders to securely store this information in other countries. Currently those locations are in the United States of America, Germany, and Thailand;
- Subject to certain conditions and limitations, you have the right to access and update your PII and, in some circumstances, you have the right to request the erasure of your PII;
- AFS-USA may use (third party) cookies and other similar techniques to obtain information from you when using the AFS-USA websites in order to facilitate your use of these websites;
- If you are a minor and your parent’s/legal guardian’s consent is required for you to provide PII, ask your parent/legal guardian for permission before sharing your information with us.
You accept that AFS may process your PII for any purpose reasonably required for the proper organization and fulfillment of the AFS program operations. You accept that AFS may process your PII for your further involvement and in order to keep in touch after your involvement with AFS, until you notify AFS differently.
You also understand that your PII will not be sold or otherwise transferred to third parties for any other purpose, and you accept that AFS will transfer and store your PII in central databases in multiple locations to ensure that the data is not lost. Currently those locations are in the United States of America, Germany, and Thailand. These databases are restricted and can be accessed by only AFS employees, consultants, and volunteers who use such data exclusively for the management of AFS program operations.
You also accept that, in order to deliver its services, AFS may share some of your PII with third party vendors and consultants (such as website hosting and design providers and ICT services consulting firms) for the sole purpose of delivering their services to AFS. All such third parties agree to comply with applicable data protection and confidentiality laws in connection with providing their services to AFS.
AFS is committed to protecting minors who access and use the AFS online applications and other AFS online questionnaires and tools. If you are under age 13, please do not attempt to register for any AFS online application or AFS online questionnaire or provide any PII about yourself to us. If we learn that we have collected PII from a child under age 13, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. If you are a minor and parent’s/legal guardian’s consent is required for you to complete an online application or questionnaire, ask your parent/legal guardian for permission before sharing your information with us. You may also be asked to provide your parent’s/legal guardian’s consent. AFS can also contact (for example, via email) your parents or legal guardians to confirm their consent.
Thank you for joining the vibrant global community of AFSers.
Effective May 2020